Healthy boundaries can enrich relationships and prevent misunderstandings, but it can be challenging to set boundaries with family. If you are embracing a new lifestyle, it is even more difficult because they may not understand or agree with the changes. Here’s how to Set Boundaries with Family Around Gifts.

Image of a mom reading the setting boundaries workbook on a tablet

What are Boundaries?

In physical terms, a boundary is a line that marks the outer limit of a shape, area, region, etc. Likewise, when you establish a personal boundary, you are creating a line to indicate your own limits. It divides responsibilities, schedules, needs, physical spaces, etc. Boundaries are a form of expectation management through clear communication.

Steps to Set Boundaries with Family

Assess Your Needs

Until you accept (and internalize) that your needs are just as important as anyone else’s, you will continue to “people please” and/or deplete yourself in an effort to meet the needs of everyone else.

Assess your needs (and those of your family). Get honest with yourself. Determine what you can (and cannot) handle or take on. Overcommitting to the point of burnout is a disservice to everyone.

Discuss with your Partner

Once you have ironed out your personal needs, get on the same page with your partner. (It will be difficult to uphold boundaries for your household if your partner isn’t on board.) 

Practice the Hard Conversation

Plan what you want to say to your family member(s) when you are in a calm emotional state. Come from a place of love, not accusation. Clearly express your need. It can be tempting to dance around sensitive topics, but you can’t fault someone for violating a boundary that you never articulated to them.

“Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” -Brené Brown, Dare to Lead.


Take a deep breath. Set clear expectations with extended family. If things get heated, it’s okay to pause and compose yourself so you don’t say something in frustration or anger. Be firm, clear, and kind.

Be Consistent

After the initial conversation, it can be easy to fall into old habits. Keep your promises to yourself. If you don’t respect and uphold your boundaries, don’t expect others to, either. Every time you interact with someone, you are training them how to treat you. Follow through.

Tips on how to Set Boundaries with Family Around Gifts

Take Perspective

If someone is giving you or your child a gift, they are doing it out of love. People don’t give gifts to someone they dislike. It can be frustrating to receive an onslaught of unwanted gifts, but recognize it as an expression of love. This will allow you to approach the problem/situation from a place of love as well.

Taking perspective also allows us to see the roles and controls in the interaction. The giver controls what is given. The receiver controls what happens after he/she takes possession of the gift. Gifts do not come with a contract stating that you must keep them for all eternity. You can graciously accept a gift knowing that once you’ve taken possession of it, the gesture of love is complete. The gift may have served its purpose. If you have no further need from it, it’s okay to let it go. Once it’s yours, the giver has no right to dictate how/if the gift is used. (See that? Boundary.)


You can’t fault someone for crossing a boundary you didn’t set. Clearly and kindly express your needs and expectations. Give guidance if it’s requested.

Focus on Yes

When it comes down to it, most givers just want to express their love. Create a win-win situation by redirecting their giving into something more helpful/useful. Hint: do this before the giver goes shopping for the birthday/holiday.

  • “Sara doesn’t have space for any more stuffed animals, but she would love a book from this series she’s been reading.” 
  • “Johnny’s room has all the toys he needs, but he would love a scooter to ride outside.” 
  • “Anna loved those puppy boots you got her, but they are too small now. If you got her a new pair in size 4, she would really appreciate it.”

You can even send a wishlist to grandparents, uncles, and aunts when a birthday or holiday approaches. That way no one feels singled out:

“Hi Everyone!

“As you probably know, Suzie’s birthday is coming up. She moves from one interest to the next so quickly, that I thought it would be helpful to put together some ideas of gifts she would really love and use. Here’s her wishlist…”

Emphasize Quality Over Quantity

Do you love stepping on a million little trinkets that break 5 minutes after your kid gets them home and leaves them on the floor? Yeah, me neither. Express to family members that you would prefer they spend their money one thoughtful, high-quality gift vs many small things that will likely get lost or broken.

Experience Gifts

This is my favorite! Tell family members that as a family you are focusing on experiences and memories over materialism. Suggest passes/a trip to the zoo, a children’s museum, an amusement park, etc. as a gift. Bonus points if the child gets to share the experience with the giver.

Classes or extracurricular activities make great gifts, too! “Jordan wants to learn to paint. She would love it if you got her a painting class/lesson.”

Protip: Experience gifts can still be unwrapped. Suggest that the giver can find a small, useful item related to the experience, and wrap it with a certificate or card telling the child about the activity. 

  • Painting class with a paint brush
  • Passes to the waterpark with a swimming suit
  • Cooking class with an apron

Consumable Gifts

Physical gifts don’t have to stick around forever. Consumable gifts are enjoyed, then disappear. (No clutter, yay!) Here are a few ideas:

  • Snacks or treats
  • Craft kits
  • Art supplies
  • Paint by stickers
  • Lip balm
  • Bubble bath
  • Nail polish
  • Science/experiment kits
  • Baking set
  • Movie night kit (popcorn and digital download or rental certificate)

Store the Gift at the Giver’s House

Keeping the gift at the giver’s house “for when the kid visits” can be a great compromise. Your child gets something different to play with when you are there. The giver gets to see the child play with it. It also keeps the clutter out of your home, so everyone is happy.

One-In-One-Out Rule

Using the one-in-one-out rule will help you maintain the current level of “stuff.” (This doesn’t just work on toys, it applies to all items coming into your home.) It’s pretty self-explanatory: every time a new item enters your home, something else gets donated. If all else fails, this one will keep you from re-accumulating clutter.

How to Set Boundaries with Family

It can be hard to set boundaries with family around gifts. But come at it from a place of love. Work together to come to a solution that works for everyone, and it can strengthen your relationships.

Have you had to set boundaries with family members about gifts? Did you use any of these tips? Are there any you would add to the list? Please let us know in the comments!

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