For my family, gift-giving, even at Christmas and birthdays is a slow, ceremonial process where each person takes their turn. It includes a lot of repetitious language such as “Ooooo… A present for me? Wow. What pretty wrapping. Save the paper. What could this be? Oh, Thank you. How sweet! This is perfect!” For my husband’s family, it is a madhouse with everyone talking and opening and playing with their toys at once. Even though there have been times that I have wished my family’s ceremony would fast forward so I could get to my presents faster, I have realized that the slow, repetitious, quiet nature of the experience is much easier for my son to participate in and learn language from. We were able to get lots of great video footage of him giving and receiving gifts with time to prompt the language we want him to learn, which was distilled down to “For me? Oooo. What Be? Wow. Thank you!” and “For Papa? You. Here you go. What Be? Open. Love you.” We edited out the prompts we had needed to give so that when he saw the Christmas videos, he saw himself fully participating with language and turn-taking. It has helped concrete those words and phrases as part of his own repertoire that he can now initiate on his own. It has also helped strengthen his relationships with the loved ones he doesn’t get to see very often.
If your family’s gift-giving experience is closer to my husband’s, I would consider whether or not your child is successful with it. If it works for everyone, great, enjoy it. But for many children, a high level of noise and distraction and social stimulus does not add up to a good time. They shut down or try to escape. If your gift-giving ritual is stressful for your child, it is worth the energy and effort to make some adjustments so that your child can actually enjoy the experience of giving and receiving gifts. Every experience can be a learning experience if the learning environment is right. Often we need to adjust the obstacles in the learning environment, the stressors and distractions, so that the child is able to focus, learn, remember, and succeed. One relatively easy way to adjust the experience is to change your child’s part in it. If you explain that the noise level is stressful for your child, and ask if your family members would mind stretching his gift-giving out throughout the day, even little children can often understand the reason behind the exceptions. Grandpa could bring a present to him the night before in his room and then spread the experience out before and after the actual shindig. That way, you set the stage for great social interaction and language with each present. You have the time and space to capture the video and gently encourage the language you want to hear. Then each person has the spotlight and their time to shine. The relationship with each person is strengthened and reinforced when they watch the Video Story.
There are also many subtle and not-so-subtle social skills wrapped up in the gift-giving and receiving process. With Video Stories, you can effectively teach the many intricate details of being a good gift giver. You can address the methods of picking out or making a good present for someone, considering their interests. You can zoom in on the step by step process of wrapping a present which may be an intensely exciting new experience for your child to complete on his or her own. There is also the tricky process of waiting, keeping a secret, and allowing the person to open their own present. Video Stories can actively develop the social language necessary to express gratitude and love. In a Video Story you can introduce wonderfully helpful phrases to expand and build upon your child’s social language, whatever the next step is in your child’s language development. You can teach the language they need in order to appropriately share, ask for a turn, ask for more time with a toy, and even hiding the disappointment they feel if they don’t like a present. It was an eye-opening and socially significant experience for one of my students to learn that if he didn’t like or already had a toy, he didn’t need to tell the person, he could just keep it a secret and tell his mom later on, and that she could probably exchange it for something else.
There are times, especially when more than one present is given at a time, when your child will ignore a present and not show any excitement about it. The giver may feel a bit disappointed. However, later on, when they rediscover the new toy and engage with it, that would be a great time to capture some video footage to make a video “Thank you” card. You can catch their laughter and language, or model the language you want them to say on the video and edit out your voice. Then send the video in the mail or through a private online social network. What a fun way for your child to get personally involved in spreading joy!