06/26/2012 01:26 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2012

Share Your Gift-Giving Rules Without Looking Like a Control Freak

By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media editor

I consider myself to be pretty sensitive to other families' media rules. But birthday parties -- in my experience -- are always hit or miss. I'll never forget the horror on the face of one Waldorf-oriented father when his son opened up the plastic "Toy Story 3" gadget my kid had picked out at Target. Whoops. I had no idea Woody was off-limits. But how could I have known?

Parents can be timid about announcing their gift-giving preferences. It's always a little awkward to say, "Give us this, but don't give us that." But as toys become more commercialized and media-oriented gifts more abundant, we may need to get more comfortable asserting ourselves. If you have strong feelings about what is and isn't appropriate, there are polite and reasonable ways of getting your wishes across.

Here are some tips for being a good gift-giver -- and receiver -- while also keeping conflict at bay.

Be prepared

  • If you're hosting the party, let people know in the invitation if you have certain wishes. It can be hard to do this without sounding ungrateful, but I've found that asking for gifts with a particular theme (books or pirates or travel-friendly games) -- or even no gifts at all -- can actually be really helpful for potential gift-givers.
  • If your kid is the invitee, don't be afraid to ask the parents if there's anything in particular that their kid would enjoy (or anything to avoid).

Express yourself

  • Not all family members ask before they do their gift shopping. So make sure to speak up early and often about your preferences. Say something like, "We're only watching G-rated DVDs these days." Or even: "We've got some really clear rules about media use in our house, so if you're thinking of getting Roberto any gadgets, DVDs, or video games, please ask me first."
  • With close friends and relatives, it can be easier to ask them to avoid certain themes (like princess movies or violent games) without any offense.

Give guidance

  • Sometimes it can be helpful to let gift givers know what you would like, instead of what you don't want. For instance, you can steer folks away from media gifts altogether with: "I know Felix would love something homemade."
  • Or talk about what's worked well in the past: "Those books you got for Alana last year were perfect. I bet she'd like the latest in the series this year."
  • Wish lists on sites like Amazon can also be helpful for Internet-savvy gift givers who like clear direction.

Set limits

  • Birthdays are often times when relatives like to splurge on high-ticket tech toys or just go overboard on the number of gifts they give. But your kid might not be ready for expensive, high-powered electronics or a $50 iTunes gift card. If you want to regulate the amount of media (or anything else) coming into your home, set some limits. Ask relatives for activities or services (like a trip to the zoo from your cat-crazy aunt, or a snazzy haircut from Grandpa, the former Army barber!) instead of gadgets.
  • At birthday parties, you can limit the attention paid to gifts by opening them after the party ends or opening them one at a time while accompanied by the gift giver, instead of making a big production out of it.

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