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by Abigail Van Buren

Price Tag Doesn't Measure True Value of Gifts for Kids

DEAR ABBY: I've had the same problem as "Genuinely Concerned," whose children received too many gifts from her in-laws. Your advice was right on target.

However, I'd like to add the following: First, her parents should never stop giving gifts because they "cannot compete." Gift giving is not a competition; it is an expression of love. My parents give gifts they can afford, not ones that compete with the other grandparents. I've taught my children that a $1 gift is just as important as a $100 gift.

Second, suggest alternatives to the excessive clothes and toys. Purchasing a bond or opening a mutual fund for the children will be far more appreciated in the future than a game or toy that has long since been discarded.

Although I consistently (but politely) encouraged this type of gift for my children, my in-laws persisted with an excess of "stuff" for years. After about eight years of friction over gifts, my husband and I asked my in-laws to watch the children one weekend. I do not know the details of what happened, but upon our return, my mother-in-law announced that the children had too many clothes and toys, and from now on, she was sending them bonds for their future.

Each of our four children now has an adequate number of toys and sufficient clothing, but more important, they also have their college educations almost completely paid for, thanks to grandparents who finally saw the light. -- HARMONY IN FLORIDA

DEAR HARMONY: One can only guess what happened that weekend, but whatever it was, everyone ended up a winner.

I also heard from many families who have creative gift-giving policies. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I want to reply to the letter from "Genuinely Concerned." Instead of trying to compete with the number of gifts my children received from my in-laws, my mother (who is alone and living on a fixed income) gives them something no one else can -- her time and love.

My children have received gifts from her such as sleep-overs at Grandma's that included selecting their own movie and dinner. She has taught them to sew, knit and bake. She even made them a dollhouse, and they have spent hours with her making miniature furniture and clothes for their dolls. She loves her grandchildren and knows them well because of the one-on-one time she spends with them.

I sincerely hope "Genuinely Concerned"'s parents can find a way to connect with their grandchildren. It is not about money. -- COLLEEN IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR COLLEEN: Well said!

DEAR ABBY: For 20 years or more, I have given my grandchildren and great-grandchildren lessons -- swimming, dance, music, karate -- as gifts. I always check with the parents for their approval first.

I start with basic, beginning lessons at age 3 or 4 and continue if the child is interested. They end up with a lifetime skill, not a room full of stuff. -- GIVING GRANDMA

DEAR GIVING GRANDMA: That's terrific. Talents that are nourished in childhood can bring years of pleasure in years to come.

In addition, other readers suggested treating the grandchildren to breakfast, long walks, lunch in the park, trips to the library or zoo, gardening, or simply reading and/or singing with them. Any of these activities will increase closeness in the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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