Help! Birthday Parties and Presents: No? Yes? Ahhh!
I always write “no gifts” on my kids’ birthday party invitations, because I feel like they receive plenty of gifts from family members and they don’t need anything else. I’ve also done charitable gifts, like last year when I threw my daughter a Milk + Bookies Party and asked all of the children to bring a picturebook to donate to our local children’s hospital. But I know my daughter was a little bit sad her friends didn’t bring her presents. I’ve also heard from other parents that to say “no gifts” ruins the birthday spirit for kids. What do you think?
My parents threw me a birthday party the year I turned eight. We were about to move to a new town and looking back, I think this was my parent’s way of acknowledging things were about to change. From that point on, we only had small family celebrations. My parents made our birthdays special—we had cake and always got to choose a special birthday dinner. But I always secretly longed for a party.
Perhaps it’s this reason I tend to go a little nutso for birthdays now. So before we go on, know I may be a bit biased here in my advice.
Our kids get lots. Too much most of the time. When you consider how most of the world lives, well, it’s silly some of the lengths we go to for birthday parties: ombre cakes, hand made pinatas… I mean one year I made two large paper mache cars for kids to drive around. Seriously. And yet, I love this silliness.
So this is where I battle with myself. On one hand, I believe less is more (plus, space is such a premium in our house, we simply can’t have a lot). On the other, I acknowledge that throughout history giving gifts is the way we show appreciation and affection for someone.
I think what’s at the heart of your question is this: how do we grow kids that aren’t always wanting more, more more; kids that appreciate what they have. As my wise friend Kirsten would say, it’s the scarcity vs abundance paradigm. We want to raise our kids to feel whole and happy.
So how do we teach this idea of abundance to our kids? It’s a tall order, but I think there are a few things we can do to help.
If your daughter sees the ‘no gifts rule’ as a downer on her day, try a different approach—have her donate toys she no longer plays with to make room for the gifts she receives. That way, her old toys get to experience love again in the hands of another child. By giving her the choice, she takes ownership in giving. I find when kids have a sense of ownership, lessons are more likely to stick.
As far as guests go, try writing something on the invitation like, “Your presence is the best gift of all”. This shows your guests that gifts aren’t necessary. However, if it brings joy to someone’s heart to offer a gift, I say it’s okay to let them have it. So I wouldn’t ban them altogether.
Thank you cards are a lovely practice to encourage your daughter to show her appreciation. Keep the writing short—kids developing their writing skills tire quickly and we don’t want to make this feel like a massive chore. If it does, she may not want to do it again. Try using a prompted card like this one.
Finally, and based on your dilemma and kind heart I imagine you do this already, talk to your daughter about giving throughout the year. Enlist her and her friends’ help in setting up a canned food drive on a random weekend. You can even turn it into a little party. This lets you avoid pairing a challenging lesson with a day celebrating her.
This way she sees she can have her cake, eat it too and still have some left over to share with friends.