Q. Can you give me some suggestions for gifts for children? My husband and I spend the winter in Florida or the Caribbean every year, and shopping there for the grandchildren has gotten to be a pain.
If we bring them back clothes, either they don't fit or they don't like them because they're not what all the other children are wearing.
If we get toys, they already have them. If we buy curios or decorative items, they're not interested in them.
They are disappointed with whatever we bring, and yet the first thing they always say when we walk in the door is, "What did you bring me?" There are four of them.
A. Why, pray, do you wish to bring presents to these children? Surely not to see the childish delight break on their merry little faces.
Your duty, as a grandmother, is not to feed their insatiable and ungrateful appetites, but to cure them from the multiple rudeness of "What did you bring me," which combines greed with insensitivity.
The ways in which grandparents can teach manners to children, when the parents do not, are limited. You cannot train them to behave well in general, but you can insist on their doing so to you, which will not only make your life more pleasant, but inform them that there are higher standards of behavior than those with which they are familiar at home.
If you have your grandchildren as houseguests, or perhaps take an older one on a trip with you, you can insist that your preference in manners be observed. Miss Manners considers this of sufficient importance to suggest to you that you think of ways to include these young people in your life under such circumstances.
When you are visiting them, you cannot impose rules different from those permitted by their parents. But you can, and should, refuse to cater to the attitude suggested by their demand.
Children should learn that they must pretend not to expect presents, to the extent that they must look surprised at the regular birthday and Christmas offerings, and even more so at less traditional occasions, such as the return from a trip.
They also must learn to look pleased with whatever they get. And finally, they must treat the giver as if what pleases them most of about the present is the thoughtfullness of the giver, because however much they love things, they love people more.
This is a difficult order for a small child, no less important because it is not true. If they learn to behave as if it is, the better sentiment will gradually merge with the basic lust for possessions, and make finer persons.
Therefore, Miss Manners is going to answer your question by recommending the toughest present you can give, although it has the advantage of being cheap. Nothing.
Brave their disappointment until it becomes clear to them that the valuable thing you have brought them is the presence of their grandparents. When they have been shocked into understanding this, give them the present of an excursion with you, or a visit.
Then, when they have learned to control themselves and at least to fake an interest in you, you can resume, on an irregular basis, bringing them presents. By that time, you should have gotten to know them, as well, and therefore you will be better able than Miss Manners to judge what would please them.