The Art of Giving: Thinking About Someone Else’s Wants and Wishes

With the winter holidays coming up, it’s a perfect time to delve into your child’s “person files” in order to brainstorm gift ideas. A person file is a tool created by Michelle Garcia Winner ( to help store information about people we know or are getting to know. The files can be things we remember about the person or facts we’ve written down. Either way, the info should focus on a person’s interests, beliefs, reactions, likes, and dislikes.

Here are some tips for helping your child use their person files to come up with gift ideas for family and friends:

  • Consider the person’s hobbies and interests, and try to match these interests with an appropriate gift. For example, a cook might like a new kitchen gadget and a sports fan might be excited to have a team jersey.
  • Think about places this person likes to visit. Some people would love a trip to a new restaurant and others would prefer an outing to a movie or play. Where does your person choose to go on a weekend or day off?
  • Imagine something nice you could do for the person, and give that as a gift. For example, offer to do some garden or yard work, clean out the closets, or take on extra pet-care chores.
  • Create a card, drawing, or other handmade gift for the person based on what you know about them. Maybe the person you’re thinking about loves ballet or puppies or the color blue. Find a way to incorporate that thing into a handmade item.
  • Based on the person’s food preferences, bake them some cookies, an apple crisp, or another treat.
  • If you know the person’s favorite store, save up some money and buy them a gift certificate.

Whatever gift you come up with, the process of reviewing your child’s person files builds important skills in perspective taking. Considering another person’s wishes increases your child’s awareness that each person has their own needs and wants and demonstrates a useful technique for putting oneself into another person’s shoes.


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