Letting children take part in gift exchange

How to include kids in the White Elephant Gift Exchange:

As you may already know, White Elephant Gift Exchanges suit adult group sizes of from 4 to 20 people. But what if you have children included? What if you would like to run a White Elephant Gift Exchange for children only?

Depending on the age, this can be tricky! Not all children will have the ability to manage having a gift taken away from them, nor may they not want to give it up! Children may not understand that even though a gift is taken away from them that they still have a chance to get another gift. Unexpected reactions, like tears or anger, can ruin a Christmas gathering, and we want to avoid that at all costs! Try some of these ideas if you'd like to include children in your White Elephant Gift Exchange, or if you'd like to run one just for children.


For this group, following the rules of a regular White Elephant Gift Exchange will work. All guests bring a wrapped gift according to the theme you've set and the price limit you've mentioned. When they arrive, each guest places their wrapped gift in the center of the sitting circle you've set up, and as host(ess), you give them a number. Don't forget to keep a list of what number you've assigned to each guest in case they lose it.

Once everyone is seated, you begin, as the host, by pulling the first number out of the hat, who is considered person #1. Person #1 then chooses a gift and unwraps it for all to see. Person #1 then chooses the next number in the hat (person #2), and Person #2 can either select a wrapped from the pile or take Person #1's unwrapped gift. If Person #2 takes Person #1's gift, Person #1 then selects an wrapped gift from the pile, opens it for all to see, and chooses the next name or number out of the hat, who is now Person #3. Person #3 then has a bigger choice: they can choose the gift already opened by Person #1 or #2 or choose a wrapped gift from the pile. And so on, until everyone has a gift. Continue until all the white elephant gifts are unwrapped.

Ages 8-12

For this group, lots of explaining and reassuring will be need to be done if you'd like to follow the structure described above for teenagers and adults. Also, if you have a few extra parents handy to help manage your group, this can really help reduce any frustration or sadness that might occur.

Here is a variation though, that might reduce the risk of having any upset children in this age group as the game progresses:

Prepare a sitting circle on the floor of the room where you will be hosting the White Elephant Gift Exchange. You can mark sitting spots with cushions, placemats or festive paper squares. As each child arrives with their wrapped present, walk them over to the circle to show them where the game will occur. Explain to them that they will need to choose 2 spots on the circle. One spot is where they will sit and one spot is where they will place their wrapped gift. They cannot choose the same spot for both sitting and placing their gift - they have to sit somewhere other than where they place their gift. Their gift is for someone else, they just don't know who yet!

Once all children have arrived, and they've sat down in the circle and are now holding their mystery gift, begin by choosing one child to begin the game (Child #1). The adult running the exchange can choose a child or one of the children can volunteer to go first.

  • The beginner (Child #1) opens their present.
  • The next child (Child #2) to their right opens their gift.
  • Child #2 can now choose to exchange gifts with Child #1 or can choose to keep it.
  • The next child, Child #3, goes next. He or she can choose to open the unwrapped gift they're holding or exchange it with Child #1 or #2. Whatever the choice, whoever is holding the unwrapped gift now opens it.
  • Child #4 goes next and so on, until all gifts are opened.

There may be some upset children, and this is bound to happen! It is best to keep it to a small number of children and have a back-up plan if there are tears. Your back-up plan can include moving quickly to the next game, distract the children with a prepared snack table, and to have another game area ready where they move outside of the gift exchange circle. And of course, extra adults available to assist is always helpful.

Remember, the best part of this game is that all children have bought and received a gift! It may help to remind any upset children about this if it should occur, but we hope not!

Mixture of Children and Adults

This really is the best-case scenario for a White Elephant Gift Exchange! You can arrange your guest list so that the number of adults and children are equal and you seat them in an organized way that every child has an adult beside them. Or you can arrange them in pairs so that an adult sits with a child and they have their turn together, making decisions together as to whether they "keep or exchange", and at the end of the game decide who gets to keep the gift. As host, you may want to have some back-up loot bags (bags with small gifts inside), for the children who may come away without a gift in this scenario.

Submit Your Gift Idea

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