Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Gift Ideas for the Grandchildren

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Note from the Mommybites editors: This “Ask Dr. Gramma Karen” column is one of our holiday favorites! She wrote it five years ago and we are reposting it because the ideas she presented then remain timely and thought provoking. And be sure to read her updated message with new resources at the end.

As the holidays approach grandparents begin to think of gifts for their grandchildren. As an alternative to giving traditional material gifts, I want to suggest that giving events and experiences can be incredibly enriching and valuable. Think how excited a grandchild will be to learn that as a holiday gift Grandma and Grandpa are taking her to the circus, or to the latest Disney movie followed by pancakes at the local diner, or to see a Broadway production or a professional sports event. The possibilities are endless.

Other examples: for a holiday gift, some grandparents pay for a summer camp experience or lessons that focus on a grandchild’s special interests, e.g., technology, music, sports, the arts, or leadership. Other grandparents fund special school trips to places of interest, or they join their grandchildren and participate in community work projects that utilize children and teens, e.g., Parents, or Points of Light.

Although a more costly option for the holidays, many grandparents host their extended families for a cruise or a vacation in warm-weather resorts for swimming, snorkeling and beaching it, or at winter-weather resort areas for skiing, snowshoeing, toasting marshmallows together by the fireside. Rather than renting a large house where the entire extended family stays together, many grandparents lean towards cruises and resorts where separate rooms provide some natural boundaries and privacy.

Another option is to take advantage of the family adventures offered by Road Scholar. They offer what they call “Featured Grandparent Collections” as well as trips organized around hobbies and interests. When grandparents are asked about the expense involved in deciding to treat the family to a cruise, resort, or family adventure, a typical response is that it gives them great pleasure to share some of their money hosting these special family gatherings.

One extended family I know — comprising three grandparents, six young parents, and ten cousins, ranging in age from 6 to 22 — is always together for Christmas Eve. Three years ago, they started a tradition whereby all the kids open a gift at the same time and try to figure out what it means. The first year each of them received a T-shirt that said Brooklyn Nets. Their initial puzzlement turned to sheer delight when they were told they were all going to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, in a suite no less, for a Brooklyn Nets – Boston Celtics game. (FYI: Celtics 93; Nets 76.)

The next year at the annual Christmas Eve gathering, the ten cousins each received a T-shirt with a different letter on it. Donning their shirts, the kids scrambled around in different configurations trying to figure out what the shirts spelled. They finally figured out “Cooperstown” and were told they were all going to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, for an overnight in a hotel. Between the museum, the hotel pool, and taking over a diner for lunch, they had lots of laughs and fun. This year (shhh!) each cousin will receive a bottle of sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses: they are headed for a week together at a resort in the Caribbean.

In addition to these non-material gift ideas, for those looking for other ideas, I highly recommend a delightful book that is chock full of over 500 suggestions for things parents and grandparents can do to: create memorable experiences; build family traditions and rituals; strengthen lasting inter-familial connections. Some of the ideas are helpful reminders, and others are innovative —but all are practical and easy to implement.

In addition to containing an entire holiday section, there are numerous ideas for traveling, sick days, weekends, and birthdays. The book is Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day, by social psychologist and author of over 15 parenting books, Susan Newman, Ph.D. A wonderful resource!

So, this holiday season and throughout the year, many grandparents may want to focus on doing, connecting, and creating lasting memories with their grandchildren, rather than on shopping. These are gifts a grandchild will always cherish and remember with love and fondness, and they can be gifts about which both budget-conscious and splurging grandparents can feel good.

November 2019: A message from Dr. Gramma Karen

I hope my longer-term readers have enjoyed re-reading this column, and I hope that my more recent readers, who are reading it for the first time, find it helpful.

I invite all my readers to check out these additional resources I have added that focus on giving experiences and events as gifts.

For example, I highly recommend “30+ Ideas for Making Memories: How to Give Experiences Instead of Gifts”; also, I found these 15 experience-based ideas useful. Although I do not particularly like the negative title of this article — “Our kids were just so ungrateful’: Why some families are boycotting presents this year” — I think it does include some good ideas. And finally, a mom tells a personal story about her family’s transition from traditional gift giving to giving gifts of experiences.

Wishing everyone happy holiday experiences!

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Its All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work

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