"Begin now [before gifts are exchanged] to prepare your children for receiving gifts. Talk about the importance of the giver, not just the gift. . . . Play a "what if" game with children to help them anticipate how they might say thank you. . . ."
We recently got the opportunity to do this with Elijah's 6th birthday. Knowing he would receive gifts from friends and relatives, my wife played this "what if" game with him several times -- instructing him to look the giver in the eye, say "thank you," and then say something positive about the gift. And for good measure, we practiced the night before his party. For example, we asked him what he would say if he got a green Match Box car; he replied, "I really like cars and the color green." Later, as a joke, I asked him what he would say if someone gave him a baby doll. He hesitated, so I suggested he say something like, "Thank you for the doll. I'll really enjoy sharing this with my sister." He laughed at that idea.
The next day at the party, things seemed to be working well. He opened one gift and said, "Thank you. I saw this toy at the store and I really wanted it." After receiving a Sea Monkeys kit, he said, "Thank you. I never had a pet and I've always wanted one."
Much to my and my wife's amusement, he opened an apparently-not-as-desirable gift, and politely said, "Thank you. I'll really enjoy sharing this with my sister." And he did.
-- Joey Espinosa