Gift giving and receiving can be problematic in families. Seems a bit ironic when we’re trying to simplify and build a home environment based on love and gratitude.

But every year around the winter holidays, I get questions about how to handle gifts.

So what do we do about gift giving and receiving and how do we avoid conflict in our families?

Gift Giving and Receiving: How to Avoid ConflictI was there myself, years ago, perhaps where you are now. Wanting only natural playthings in keeping with my hard-earned simplicity.

The truth is though that as Waldorf parents, we can go overboard. Sometimes way too far. And connection with extended family is important to preserve and nurture along with our immediate family connections.

What’s a Waldorf family to do about gift giving and receiving?

Gift Giving

We have more control over the giving of gifts. And if you want more ideas for tying this into lessons, you can read this post: Making Handmade Gifts in December.

Making handmade gifts can be festive and connecting and a learning experience. Here are just a few of the handmade gifts we’ve made over the years: window stars, knitted washcloths & handmade soap, bookmarks, fancy baked goods, placemats, and calendars. You might want to read this post: 4 Last Minute Handmade Gifts.

Or you can give gifts of experience such as tickets to a show, an ice skating date, or dinner out for two to enjoy some one-on-one time.

Books make wonderful gifts, too. I have a full list of over 50 children’s books here: Favorite Winter Holiday Books for Giving and Receiving.

The Dilemma of Receiving Unwanted Gifts

The dilemma of receiving unwanted gifts is a messier topic! Some extended families can even get into great conflict over this one.

Here are some thoughts as we head into the holiday season:

Ask if grandparents or in-laws would like any suggestions! Then you can steer them toward a company you feel good about such as:

Or ask for a specific item that the whole family can enjoy together. This was a great solution in our extended family. The grandparents often gave us one gift for all the children to play with together.

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Here are a few ideas:

Or ask for a membership to the Natural History Museum, or the Zoo, or the Historical Society, Botanical Gardens or Art Museum.

But what if they don’t ask? Or worse yet, don’t see the value in your Waldorf lifestyle and want to give your children the latest plastic toy or electronic device?

Let them! That’s my advice. It may surprise you, but the time to share about your new-found or misunderstood path is not around the holidays. It’s a process. Over time, they’ll see. Or you’ll come to be able to talk about your goals and dreams for your children without bristling. The sharp edges do soften over time.

Then what do you do with those unwanted gifts you ask? Let the children enjoy them for a time. If the toys become all-consuming, gently set limits. (Remember the mantra: “be firm but also be kind.”) And then at a later date, you can “disappear” them. Or clear out and donate the item. Perhaps during spring cleaning or in the summertime.

Remember, you’re in this for the long run. Don’t let the dilemma of unwanted gifts ruin your holidays.

Most importantly, don’t set up a power struggle with grandparents or in-laws by making ultimatums or edicts. That will work about as well as it does with children! The definition of a gift is “a thing given willingly.”

Accept your gifts with as much grace as you can muster.


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  1. We really always did well by trading gift memberships to museums, nature centers etc. with the in-laws, especially those who have kiddos. My experience was that almost everybody could get behind the idea that “Well, we have so much, what do you think about the kids exchanging family memberships to the Science Museum? etc.” This was our go-to.
    My guys would get really frustrated with junky plastic toys (gifted from work colleagues particularly) as they tend to break, there are too many pieces etc.. But they were usually pretty happy to add them (without prompting) if I put a large cardboard box in the front hall labeled ‘Things to share’. So it was never much of an issue.
    I think its key to try to take a relaxed approach to these situations, as you point out. Thanks for this post, very timely for a younger sibling!

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