I recently spent an exorbitant amount of time at a department store, trying to pick out the right gift for a five-year-old boy. My husband, baby daughter, and I had been invited to his birthday party as friends of the family. My thought process was comical. Would he be excited to open this? Would his mom be upset if I got him that? Did he already have this toy? The conversation went on and on, while the patient friend I’d brought shopping humored me.
No Gift Opening: The Experience of a Party Guest
That weekend, we arrived at the party, carefully selected gift in hand. This was a destination party, held at The Little Gym. After playtime, games, and birthday cake, the designated end time of the party arrived. But we’d yet to open the gifts.
“Are we opening gifts here?” I asked my husband. He answered that the gifts had already been packed away. I was incredulous. A birthday party with no gift-unwrapping ceremony? The idea seemed preposterous. Isn’t that the whole point of a kids’ birthday party? How would I know what the birthday boy’s reaction would be to our gift? I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by disappointment as we left the party.
The Brilliance of No Gift Opening at a Party
But then I gave it a second thought. Was I just being selfish? Perhaps it’s a brilliant idea not to open gifts at a kids’ birthday party. After all, it is often an awkward and contrived situation. And think of the chaos and embarrassment that can ensue.
If the kid is old enough to open the birthday gifts himself, he might not make an appropriate reaction to a gift. Not opening the gifts in front of guests saves parents the humiliation of the disappointed sigh or hasty cast-aside.
If the other kids are old enough to understand what’s going on, they may want to immediately play with the toys or throw a jealous fit over someone else receiving gifts. Or they may have no interest at all, leaving a birthday kid opening presents with no audience and party chaperones with divided attention.
I, the gift-giver, didn’t have to experience the dejection of having painstakingly selected a gift that was a duplicate or a poor match for the kid’s taste. A carefully worded thank-you card would save me any grief.
A search online proved that this little boy’s mom wasn’t the only mom who’d chosen not to include gift opening at the party itself. In fact, with destination parties becoming more popular, fewer kids are opening gifts at the location because of the strict schedules such venues impose on families.
And so, I’m left somewhat inclined not to have my kids open gifts at their birthday parties, with a few conditions:
- I will write detailed, timely thank-you notes. I will describe my kid’s reaction (if it was appropriate) and will probably include a picture of my kid with the gift. If I’m feeling super crafty, I may even record my child opening each gift and post a video on YouTube for the gift-giver to see. I think this will be especially important if my kid’s friends are old enough to have picked out the gifts themselves. Kids deserve reinforcement for their thoughtfulness and selflessness.
- I will let guests know up-front that we will not be opening gifts at the party, whether through the invitation or as they arrive with the gift. That way, they don’t have to sit around wondering when the gifts will be opened. And if for some reason giving a gift is not feasible at that time, they’ll get to be less anxious about choosing not to give one.
- I will still work on gift-opening etiquette with my kids. I will make sure that they are very aware of who gave them each gift they open. I will have them practice saying a genuine “thank you” out loud. Once they’re old enough, I’ll have them sit and write the thank-you notes with me. Gift opening is, after all, a lesson in gratitude and manners.
Maybe if we start eliminating gift opening from kids’ birthday parties, we’ll minimize drama and pressure and leave more room for enjoyment. What are your thoughts?
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