This is a difficult situation for any child. They’ve walked up to their teacher’s desk. It’s coming to the end of the year, and you’ve packed a big box of chocolates in their bag to give to their teacher.
Smiling, they reach out to give it to their favourite teacher and… the teacher turns it down. They say that while they really appreciate the thought, they can’t accept gifts from their students.
As a teacher, this is really hard for us. We want to be able to accept gifts from our students, but there are many reasons why we shouldn’t or even can’t. Some may see a student giving their teacher a gift and assume that they will get special treatment, and research has actually shown that it is really difficult for teachers to resist this.1 On a different note, some school administrations actually prohibit teachers from accepting gifts from their students.
There are many things that you can do for your teacher to show your appreciation, but here are a few things if you’re already in this situation and you child is on the verge of tears:
Explain why their gift may have been rejected.
If your child has just tried to give a gift to their favourite teacher and it has been rejected, they will be hurt. Their teacher will have tried their hardest to explain to your child why they couldn’t accept the gift, but this doesn’t always get through when emotions are high.
You will probably need to explain it to your child again when they get home. Make sure to emphasise and explain that it doesn’t mean that the gift wasn’t appreciated and that there are often reasons why their teacher can’t accept their gift that is outside of their control.
Even if you are just repeating what their teacher has already told them, it is useful for them to hear it from you as well. Hearing it twice can help to make it sound less like an excuse and help them to understand that this is not a sign that their teacher doesn’t care about them.
If your child comes home really upset about this, it is also worth talking to their teacher. Giving them a call the next day can help you both stay on the same page and give the same message to your child. It is also important for the teacher to know if your child is still very upset, and you may be able to give them some strategies to help them support your child through this.
Suggest that they give the gift to someone else.
You may want to suggest that your child gives their gift to someone else instead. Try to steer them away from trying to give it to another teacher for obvious reasons, but giving the gift to a friend or family member can help your child get through this.
Still having the gift can be a reminder of the rejection, so giving it away can be a great step forward. Depending on the gift, you may want to suggest that your child gives it to another single person or it may be something that they can share with their entire class.
You want to make sure that your child makes the decision to give their gift to someone else. This can be very difficult and they may never come around to the idea, and that is perfectly fine. This doesn’t make them selfish, as they have the right to give their gift to whoever they want, even if it is themselves.
Model resilience and how to react to rejection.
It is very likely that if your child is giving a gift to their teacher, that you were very involved in organising this. The gift may be something that you bought especially for this teacher, so the rejection can really hurt you as well.
It is important to remember that a teacher’s reasons for rejecting a gift are never personal. There are many reasons why teachers cannot accept gifts, both ethically and legally. You may also be feeling some difficult emotions, so you may be in a good position to help your child work through them by doing so together.
This is a fantastic opportunity to model how you deal with rejection. Everyone goes through it sometimes, and when you’re a child and you’re rejected by someone who still cares about you deeply, it’s a good chance to build good coping strategies.
It is important that you talk to your child about how they are feeling, and describe how you are feeling. This method of thinking aloud can help unpack your thoughts and feelings so that it is a lot easier to do so next time. Such emotionally charged events make it really hard for us to order and reflect on our thoughts, but practice certainly helps.
Having your gift rejected is difficult.
This is true for all of us, but can be particularly difficult for a child or young person who has been rejected by someone that they care about when they’ve never experienced anything like this before.
As much as it hurts, this is a learning opportunity. Being able to handle and cope with rejection is a very important life skill, and it may even help your child work through this by discussing this with them explicitly.
Whatever you do, make sure that you emphasise that it does not mean that their teacher doesn’t like them or appreciate the gift. As a teacher, we find it incredibly difficult to do this to one of our students. It is an unfortunate fact that we can’t always accept the gifts that we are given, and we appreciate all the support that you give your child to help them through this.
Has your child ever had a gift rejected by a teacher? How did they take it? Was there anything that you did to help that you thought worked particularly well? Leave a comment below!
1Aydın, İ., Güner Demir, T., Toptaş, B., & Erdemli, Ö. (2021). Teachers’ struggle with gifts: gift culture at schools and associated ethical problems. Ethics & Behavior, 31(5), 335-349.