To Open or Not to Open Gifts at the Birthday Party
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To Open or Not to Open Gifts at the Birthday Party
My son will be turning four and we are having his party at the
park. I was just wondering the pros and cons about opening gifts
at a birthday party. Parties 1-3 we just brought them home and
opened them later.I have only been to two parties where parents
have had their kids open the gifts in front of everyone and I
found it boring and the kids usually just ripped through the
presents. We'll have a mixture of kidless friends and families
with kids. I would love to hear some feedback.
mom of a july birthday boy
Our kids, now 13 and 11, have had the requisite number of
parties - all great fun - over the years. When the kids were
little, gift opening always came later, at home, privately. We
focussed the parties on being together, having adventures, and
steered away from the gifts being a central theme. As the kids
got older, however, this got harder. By then their friends had
had a hand in selecting the gifts, and wanted to see how their
choice was received. There was more momentum for gift-opening
and probably more peer pressure. And by then our kids had more
input into their parties, and more control over the dynamics.
We're talking about 7 - 10 years old here I think. I certainly
can't recall a party in recent years (when the kids were in
younger elementary school) that gift-opening did not happen. I
think this is a fluid thing, that changes over time.
Letting the kids call the shots as they got older on this one
Where I come from when a guest arrives with a present, they
hand it to you as you greet them and wish you a happy whatever
the occassion happens to be. You take the present, open it
right there and then, and thank the person for your present,
then you put it away. We have tried and hated the opening of
presents in front of everyone and reverted to our custom. I
find that a lot of people really want to see their present's
opened so they get their satisfaction, but it is not a boring
occassion for every one else. In the case of our smaller
children, it made it very clear who the present was from and
they would easily and more sincerely thank the giver.
Although it's fun for kids to open their presents at parties, I
think it's just fine to save them for later. One thing this does
is to avoid any sense of one kid (or their parent) feeling that
his/her present wasn't up to par, wasn't as successful as someone
BUT- be sure to have your son either make a thank you phone call
or send a little thank you note! Not only is this good manners,
it will teach him to appreciate other people and to not take
presents for granted. We all take other people much too much for
granted in our busy lives, and we all suffer for it.
I know that thank you notes (or calls) are not the norm these
days, but they are wonderful to receive, and, if done in the
right spirit, are wonderful to send. They acknowledge that a gift
is an exchange, and also that ''it's the thought that counts''.
Whether the gift was perfect or missed the mark, there is always
something appreciative to say about it.
I have some friends who have always sent thanks for their kids
presents, even when a gift was given in person, and it cheers me
to receive them. When the kids were tiny, one parent wrote a
simple note saying thanks and had the kid scribble on it. Then,
when the kids could write their names, the parent still wrote the
note and the kid signed it (they love showing off that they can
write their own name!). Now the kids are older they write little
notes themselves- nothing fancy or particularly time consuming,
A note is special, but a call can also be special. I find it
unusual, but when I have made a nice dinner for friends and get a
call of thanks, it makes me feel valued and gives me a nice glow.
I try and remember to makes calls and send notes myself, don't
always do it, and when I don't bother I feel a bit sad (not
guilty- sad!). My sister didn't teach my niece and nephew to do
it, and when they were old enough to be starting to really think
for themselves (early twenties), I started saying to them, ''hey,
it feels lousy to not hear anything back, I feel like I'm sending
a present off into a black hole!''. They got it, and now they
write notes- a word of thanks and a bit of news.
Of course, I have to be scrupulous to practice what I preach with
I have always been disappointed when I attend a child's birthday
party and the presents are not opened at the party. To me, one
of the most important REASONS for having a birthday party is to
teach children to both give and receive gifts well. When my
children are invited to a party, I require them to help me
select an appropriate gift, and we enjoy seeing the recipient
open it. At my children's own parties (of which there have been
a collective total of 9 so far), they open their gifts and thank
the giver. In most cases, at least some of the new toys are
promptly extracted from the packaging and they have the chance
to play with them with their friends still present.
We've never had any problems whatsoever with the process and I
think it's both fun, and valuable social learning for all
involved! The guests at my kids' parties have always enjoyed
watching (and, when they're still quite young, ''helping''), if
the way they tend to crowd around is any indication, and we've
never had any meltdowns due to a child misunderstanding the
process of giving. And my kids have never blurted out that they
don't like something or any similar rude remarks -- of course,
they do get coached before every gift-receiving occasion.
If you have the party at a rent-a-gym or similar place where
you're booked for a specific block of time, there may be some
practical obstacles to opening gifts at the party -- there may
not be time -- and if the party is not at your home, you have to
put a little more effort into keeping track of things in order
to get it all home and dispose properly of the wrappings and so
on. That's about all I can think of in the ''con'' category.
What has worked great for us is if my son opens the presents as
each kid arrives. This way it's one on one and the child giving
the present gets to actually experience giving and and the
reciever can apreciate the card and present more. It also helps
with the upsets that can happen when someone tries to compare
their gift with another's. It's not all at once, not so
overwhelming to the birthday child and not so difficult for those
whose birthday it isn't.
This happened by accident at my son's first birthday, we liked it
so well we've tried to do it since. It's not traditional and
might not work at a party with a lot of kids and you have to keep
track for thank you notes... If you decide to chose between
opening all at once or taking home, base your decision on the
number of guests. It can be excruciating if someone's entire
class is there.
There is nothing more boring watching a kid open presents at a
party. It usually takes a while and the other kids are usually
not that interested either in watching. Do everyone a favor and
skip the present opening and do it at home when the party is
over. Also, I think this is the polite thing to do as not
everyone wants to have their present choice known to everyone
else. We often choose modest gifts (and expect with no presents
or small modest gifts on our children's birthdays) as today's
children have so much. Still, I don't want our present
selection to be judged by others!
Can't we just skip the gifts altogether?
I've seen and handled present opening both ways: at the party and
after. I think it is a total disappointment to the kid guests if
they don't get to see their present opened. At least it always is
for my kids. We don't do it that way anymore. Here is a good idea
I saw done at a party and we adopted it when our kids were pretty
All the guests grab their gifts and sit in a nice circle (you can
use placemats or other markers to be sure they sit where they
should). The birthday kid sits with them, or in a chair. The kids
go around the circle and each one brings up his or her gift and
the birthday kid opens it so everyone can see and no one is
crawling all over him/her to see what it is. Also, a parent or
friend can take more easily take notes on who gave what for the
thank you notes.
If that is too structured, just have them sit around a table
while you hand the gifts out. I just think that sitting down and
watching the birthday open the gifts is solid training in
manners. Kids need to learn how to be good guests. they never
will if we never teach them how to be.
Don't do it. I had to stand firm at my daughter's last party
(her 3rd) because I was being ''hassled'' by my partner and
nephew to let her open them at the park where the party was. I
knew this was not a good idea, but felt like the bad guy
anyway. Regardless, we took them home with us, had a nice time
leisurely opening them and found that my daughter was really
only interested in one of the gifts. She played with it
immediately after opening it and didn't want to open anything
else. She eventually got into the other gifts but not until
the next day. I kept thinking how uncomfortable I would have
been had this happened at the party. I would have felt bad for
the other gift givers whose presents were not paid attention
to. It also would have been a long process (over an hour) to
get through all the gifts and who wants to watch that? I have
since been to many kid parties and it seems that gift opening
is starting to become passe. Which is a good thing, I think.
I see no point in opening presents in front of everyone at kid
parties. Other kids are bored or jealous and wouldn't you
rather be eating cake or having fun? Save the gift opening for
bridal and baby showers and places where people (usually adults)
enjoy watching others open their gifts.
I noticed people in the Bay Area have children open gifts in private more
and more if
the children are under four. Zoo, farm, picnic parties seem too busy to
gift ritual, so pack them up. However, home and garden parties seem like a
to sit everyone down to watch the gifts unfold. Both ways are fun. The
response or reaction is to actually hear about how the child enjoyed the gift
a simple spoken ''thank you''. To me, that shows more appreciation than a
standardized thank you card.
We've Done It Both Ways
You're giving the party and can do whatever you want about presents. If you don't
want to open them at the party, don't. Just say something like ''It's our family's
tradition to open presents after the party.'' But please send a decent thank you
note--one that specifically references the present each child brought not a generic
note (or no note at all). On the other hand, I have noticed that the older the kids
are, the more they want to see the presents they brought opened up by the birthday
child. I've seen kids raid the present pile at the end of parties begging the birthday
child to at least open their present. Personally I wish that families who don't want
birthday presents to be part of the party would request ''no presents please.'' My
daughter is always confused and unhappy when she can't see the present she
brought opened. And I hate dealing with her feelings on the drive home.
I think it's rude *not* to open gifts at a child's bday party,
there should always be time to open gifts.
The kids at that age -4- have probably helped Mom and Dad pick
something out,and part of the joy of giving is seeing the
surprise/joy/disappointment of the recipient as they open it,
and getting a little verbal thank you at that moment (which may
be the only one received since most people have given up on
People spend time (which all of us parents know comes at a
premium) picking out and wrapping a gift, and the least the
recipient can do is open it in front of them.
open the gifts
If it is a small party, I think it is nice to open gifts together
as a group. Children will be giving and receiving gifts all
their lives, and it's an opportunity to learn how to do so
graciously. Our children have always participated in gift-making
or buying, and often put a great deal of care and thought into
making something special for their friends. It is disappointing
if their gift is not opened while they are there. Here's one
idea to make the gift opening special for everyone, and less
chaotic: children sit in a circle; have 2 special chairs or
pillows, one for the birthday kid, and one for the gift giver.
In turn, children move to the special spot, and offer their gift.
You can take a photo of the 2 friends together, and later send
the photo with your thank-you card. This way no one crowds
around. Have some fun/neutral way of deciding what order gifts
are given so no feelings are hurt. (Don't let the birthday kid
just decide by royal fiat who goes first -- and last!)
For large parties, gift opening can be a real problem and may not
be practical. For these (rare in our family) events, we avoid
gifts altogether. At a swim center party, for example, where we
invited everyone we knew (adults and kids and people with no
kids) to join us for a swim, we didn't want everyone to have to
bring a gift. So we had a book exchange instead. Our daughter
received a few gifts later from close friends and neighbors, but
at the big party, everyone just went home with a book.
I think opening presents at a birthday party takes away from the
celebration, even at adult parties.
I feel it should be the choice of the host.
my two cents
this page was last updated: Aug 2, 2007
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