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5 Reasons You Should Give a Kid a Gift Card

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For years my husband and I have debated the merits of a gift card as a present. To him, a gift card is perfect — it bestows on the recipient the freedom to choose whatever he or she wants. Plus, it’s efficient: it’s always the right size and it’s easy to wrap.

Me? I believe gifts should be a reflection of the care and thought I’ve put into them. I want the people who get gifts from me to know that I’ve thought about who they are and what they mean to me. Especially kids. Before buying a birthday gift for a child, I do my research. Is she into science or crafts? Does he do Star Wars or Harry Potter? It takes more time, more wrapping paper and more effort.

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I’ve been staunchly anti-gift card for years.

Then, my daughter got a $25 Target gift card for her fifth birthday. After her party, as she sat in a sea of books, princess LEGOs and art supplies, I have to admit that the sleek card bearing the Target bullseye looked pretty good. I wasn’t sad that someone opted out of picking out a gift for her to unwrap, play with for five minutes and then ignore for the next 11 months.

Now I’ve come around because I’ve learned that a gift card presents endless opportunities for teachable moments. Here are the top five:

1. Responsibility: Of course my daughter wanted to run to Target as soon as she held the gift card in her sticky little fist. “Not today,” I told her. “It’s your job to put it somewhere safe until we go to Target again.” She didn’t like my answer, but she understood that she couldn’t treat it like her other toys that end up in the black hole of our playroom. She found a perfect spot for it on her bookshelf.

You haven’t seen agony until you’ve watched your 5-year-old daughter choose between plastic princess slippers and a glittery coin purse.

2. Math: Once we got to Target, my daughter decided she wanted to spend her card over four different trips. That spurred a rousing conversation centered on the mathematical limitations of a $25 gift card divided by four visits. It was a grammar school story problem come to life.

3. Decision-making: You haven’t seen agony until you’ve watched your 5-year-old daughter choose between plastic princess slippers and a glittery coin purse. She paced, her little brow moist with sweat as she struggled with her decision. It was the first time she really understood the financial consequences of her choices and she took that choice seriously.

4. Empathy: My daughter, flush with her fully-loaded gift card, was sitting in the cart next to her little brother, who did not have a gift card. It was impossible for her to ignore his distress about not having a gift card. While she didn’t offer to share her bounty with him, she did console him with hugs and assurances that one day he too would have a chance to conquer the toy aisle with a gift certificate.

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5. Prolonged Joy: It’s been two months since her birthday, and my daughter has already grown weary of her other birthday gifts. But not that gift card, which still has $11.00 remaining. She thinks often — and out loud — about what her next big splurge will be. Rumor is she’s thinking of a Hello Kitty thermos. I can only hope that the actual thermos brings her half as much joy as thinking about it does.

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