5 Ways Kids Can Participate in a Gift Exchange

Young girl wearing Santa cap while holding a stack of colorfully wrapped Christmas giftsHoliday gift exchanges are supposed to be fun for all, but there’s one group that tends to get overlooked. In case you missed the headline of this article, I’m talking about kids.

The problem is, it’s not exactly ideal for children to participate in a gift exchange as players. This is especially true for White Elephant, where most of the gifts are likely to be grownup-oriented (plus, who wants to steal from an 8-year-old?). But really, any type of mixed-age gift exchange is tough to pull off, especially if the kids are really young.

You can always put out some coloring pages and treats, or leave it to the fates and hope the kids entertain themselves during the gift swap. But a much better idea is to come up with a way for the kids to actively participate in the fun (without actually swapping). Here are a few ideas for “jobs” you could give the little guys and gals in attendance:

1. Assistant

The most straightforward option is for each kid to help a grownup. At its most basic, this could mean unwrapping presents – something every kid loves. For White Elephant and similar games, it could mean advising the grownup on which presents to keep and which ones to swap. Obviously, for this option, you need an adult who’s willing to be a good sport and give up some of their autonomy.

2. Referee

If the child is old enough, you could print out a list of the gift swap rules for them to read at the outset (if more than one kid is present, have them take turns reading lines). For a left-right gift exchange, the child could read the story. Kids can also be helpful announcing whose turn it is, showing people where to sit, and other small-but-important tasks.

3. Gift Passer Outer

Many kids have lots of experience at this from previous Christmases. Even young children can pass out gifts, and it’s a great way to make them feel included and part of the “action.”

4. Wrapping Paper Collector

At first glance, cleaning up might not seem like a fun activity for a kid. However, when colorful wrapping paper is involved, it might be a different story. Just don’t be surprised if the wrapping paper winds up in a heaping pile instead of in the trash.

5. Gift Exchanger (Kids Division)

If you have enough kids, consider conducting a separate gift exchange just for them. You can simplify things by making it a Secret Santa, musical chairs game, or left-right story that doesn’t involve swapping. Hold the kiddie gift exchange before the grownup one so the children can get their toys ASAP.

If you don’t have enough kids or a kiddie gift exchange just doesn’t seem feasible, consider buying small, inexpensive gifts for the kids to open right before the grownup gift exchange.

One final word of caution: Gag gifts are common at most holiday gift exchanges, and many of the most popular novelties are on the naughty side. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether such items are likely to show up, and whether it’s a big deal for the kids and their parents. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and come up with a separate activity to keep the children distracted.

Obviously, not all of the above suggestions are going to work for every kid, or group of kids. Whether you’re the party organizer or just a parent, it’s worth thinking of ways you can include the kids in your gift exchange fun – or at the very least keep them entertained. Not only will it make things more fun for them, but it will likely make the gift exchange go more smoothly.

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Roberta Jeeves is author of the book White Elephant Gift Exchange: Rules, Themes, and Ideas for Hosting a Perfect Holiday Gift Swap. You can buy or borrow it at Amazon.com.

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