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Opening Kids' Birthday Party Gifts

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Do you open gifts after or during the party?

Nov 2012

Just wondering, since I'm still pretty new to the children's birthday party scene - Do parents have strong feelings either for or against gifts being opened at children's birthday parties? In the past, we thought it would be more polite to open gifts right there at the birthday party. But I'm starting to wonder if this puts too much emphasis on the gifts and not the other communal aspects of the party. It is also a whole lot of stimulation. And also don't want to put anyone on the spot if they arrive without a gift or give a small gift. Has anyone had the experience of opening them after the party? I'm not even sure, is there any etiquette issues here? Are the gift givers disappointed not to see them opened? mom


Opening gifts is tradition! It makes the party easy because it is what everyone expects. First cake, then presents! For parents that are too lazy to do more than one party game, it is guaranteed entertainment for at least a short while. I think no one really notices if the gifts are big or small, or if someone did not bring a gift. I would much rather have my kid sitting watching the opening of gifts than running around with a dozen kids with no real agenda. Structure is good for kids and good for parents. I vote for opening gifts at the party. Anon
I have been to more parties where the presents are not opened, but I have been to a couple where they were opened. I disliked those parties. Kids don't care about other kids' presents, so they are bored and antsy. The birthday child can get a little fatigued, too, with so much other stuff going on. I prefer not to open the presents, and just be sure to send nice thank you notes afterwards. Heather
Don't open them. Receive them happily and immediately put them on display (which gratifies the giver) but out of reach (because sometimes someone, the birthday kid or another, can't resist ''peeking''). Opening presents at the party can really backfire into jealousy, competition, and, for your own kid, possible embarrassment when a gift is disappointing or redundant. Having said that, I would add, the advantage of opening presents is the chance to teach your kid to be gracious and tactful (and for a pretty undemanding audience, at that age). So focus on that if you do it, and if you don't, practice it anyway when the time comes for your kid to open them: model saying only nice things and writing or making thank-you's on the spot. A photo of your kid holding the present can make a really nice and easy thank-you message that even little kids can relate to, if the giver's gratification is an issue. Veteran of many parties
I also had mixed feelings about it at first. Not anymore. I think this is a case where we parents are overthinking the issue. Kids loooove to watch their friends open their gifts. Usually the children were involved in the process of picking it out, making a bday card, etc. It's all so exciting! It also makes the gifts more personal if the bday child can immediately express gratitude to the gift giver, rather than some ''thank you'' card that actually the parent wrote and is delayed and forgotten. On the 3rd birthday of my son, we were having so much fun that we lost track of time and didnt start opening presents until technically the party was over. Some families had to leave, and all of them and their children seemed very disappointed to miss out on the gift opening. I've not made that mistake again. I've observed that with my older nephew as well, where there is a no gift opening policy. I found a little group of them sneaking off so they could open the gifts together! Pro-Opening Gifts
HI - we always open gifts after the party and the vast majority of parties we attend do the same. For us, it is due to: 1. not wanting to rush our child through opening gifts (for his recent 4 year b-day party, we spent 4 or so hours on opening gifts -- he likes to play with some right away, etc -- and I don't want to rush him through what is an enjoyable activity for him (and us). At the few parties I've been to where they open the gifts there, the birthday child does seem very rushed and sometimes upset by it. 2. Wanting to focus the party on group activities that are fun for all the kids there. 3. Our child is not yet able to hide disappointment at gifts he doesn't really like ... and I don't want anyone to feel bad.

Some folks I know even extend the celebration by allowing their children to only open one gift a day for several days after the party... Oh, and as a party attendee, I much prefer the parties where the gifts are opened after the party. Of course, it's all what you are comfortable with, but I'm a fan of the opening after the party. CA Mom


My kids are 3 (and a half) and I've been to a TON of kiddie birthday parties over the past 3 years. I don't think I've been to a single one where the gifts have been opened at the party-- or at least not in the very public way that I remember it from when I was a kid myself. I think that the thinking is that it's hard on the other little kids who don't get the gift and that people are uncomfortable with so many gifts anyway, in a sense-- or the parties are gift optional/no gifts please, etc., so you don't want to make the people who didn't bring a gift (per instructions) feel bad. As a gift giver, I do feel a little disappointment not to see the recipient open a gift, but I think that with this age group it's tricky. And thus far the parties have mostly been pretty big-- tons of kids and parents. I think that as the kids get older, and possibly the parties get smaller (as the kids get specific friends, rather than just kids of the parents' friends, etc.) that we'll move more into opening gifts. Anyway, I say go with whatever makes most sense for you and your little one-- I don't think anyone will be offended one way or the other. --happy birthday
My son turned 4 this year, and we've been going to a number of 4 y.o. birthday parties. It's been pretty split on whether the gifts are opened at the party, so I think it's a matter of personal preference. In our family, we always do it after the party. I'd rather take the time during the party to be with the guests. In addition, I know my son (and his friends) will want to play with the presents right away, which will leave him distracted, having issues with sharing and me keeping track of little pieces everywhere. Happy birthday to your 4 y.o.!
Don't do it. Really. In my experience the birthday kids gets seriously overstimulated, is often inadvertently rude and the guests feel envious at best. Open them at home and then be sure to write nice, personalized thank you notes. Not a fan of the present mosh pit
I always have my kids open gifts at their birthday parties. I build that time into the party, at the end, after games, cake, etc. The kids LOVE seeing the look on the birthday child's face as they ooh and aah over each thing. Important: I make it a point to go over birthday gift etiquette with my child before the party. If you already have one of those, don't tell. Just say, ''I love it! Thank you!''. Even if they DON'T love it, act like they do anyway...etc. Open the gifts!
I've done it both ways. For my son's 1st birthday we did the big opening presents thing, and it just felt awkward and grabby, so for his 2nd birthday (last year), I asked for no gifts. Of course some people brought gifts anyway, so I waited to open gifts until after all the kids had left, so that people who didn't bring gifts wouldn't feel awkward. It was so much easier! Then I just sent thank you notes to the people who hadn't seen us open the gifts to let them know we appreciated it. So simple, and far less clutter - he mostly got big ticket gifts from my parents and in-laws instead of lots of little gifts from friends.

This year he's turning 3 and we're going to Disneyland instead of having a big party. Even less clutter! Too Many Toys Already


Good question. I'm sure there is a lot of variance by location and by family. In my experience as mom of an almost 6-year old who has been attending birthday parties these past 3 or so years in Berkeley and Oakland, the gifts are most often not opened at the party, and the gift givers don't have an expectation of seeing them opened. You mentioned reasons such as too much emphasis on gifts over other aspects of the party, or that it might put guests on the spot if they brought no gift or a small gift. Yes. Other down sides are: If you invited a lot of people, and they all brought gifts, it takes too long. And, young children are often not gracious when the gift doesn't fit their interests, and this can be embarrassing. All the kids may want to play with the new toys, and this may or may not be feasible (party location, chaos, timing, losing small parts, etc). It makes it harder to keep track of thank you notes to be written. There are, of course, differences in parenting philosophies (families that welcome an abundance of toys and families that don't), and if your child is friends with kids who will accordingly get 1-2 birthday gifts, it could set up disappointing expectations for those kids when their birthday rolls around. On the other hand, opening gifts could work if you are having a smallish birthday party, if you open gifts at the end, after all other party activities, and if you practice graciousness with your child before hand. At most parties they don't open gifts at the party, but some do, and it's usually ok (5+ year-old gift givers get excited - the kids crowd around and yell ''open mine next!'' and sometimes look to the birthday kid's face to see how it was received).
We usually open ours later, for the reasons you mentioned. When I go to parties I appreciate this as well. I like the focus to be on the coming-together aspect of it. friendship first
I suppose it depends on how big the party is or whether it is mostly family. Most of my kid's parties have involved about 20 kids and even with my son's smallest party (he had 8 friends when he turned 6) we did not open gifts. Why? Because gift opening is typically the last thing and the kids are wound up and spazzed out by then and it's hard for them to sit still. I've heard horror stories of guests opening up gifts for kids, toys getting lost or broken or accidentally thrown away. In the last 6 years I have attended close to 50 birthday parties for children under the age of 6 (I had an awesome playgroup!) and NONE of them opened gifts at the party. It's too overwhelming for the lil' monkeys. Plus it's nice to be able to sit down with the birthday kid after the party and decompress for a few minutes before opening all the gifts. And this way you can write down what the gift was and the gift giver so you can send a proper thank you note/email. Once the kids are older and the parties are smaller, (turning 8 and having 3 buddies over for a sleepover), then gift giving will certainly be a part of the party but not for preschoolers or big parties. Don't forget the thank you notes!
I wondered about this for the first years of my two kids, who now just turned 6 and 8. These days we save the presents till after the party. Reasons: 1) we have had incidents where the opening became a bit of a frenzy, with other kids ''helping,'' it becoming very difficult to tell which present was from whom, etc. 2) other kids played with and even broke new gifts before the birthday child was necessarily ready to share, 3) it was rushed, and 4) after the party is over, we all enjoy the quiet and the excitement of having another fun thing to do (and I didn't even have to do the work for this part). I hope my kids will remain happy with opening gifts after the party. And as for me, I am never offended if someone neglects to send a thank you note (and always feel sheepish that the thank you notes someone bothered to send usually go straight into the garbage anyways). Do What's Easiest for Your Family
After reading the responses to this query, I feel compelled to chime in. I am from the old school of birthday party etiquette. My son opened his presents at every one of his birthday parties growing up. It was a lot of fun for all. I dutifully stood aside and made my list so that we could do thank you notes together afterward. I wanted to teach my son good manners by writing thank you notes. I had planned every party (through the tweens) with a theme and a handmade thank-you card. I might add here, that we hardly ever got a thank you card from gifts we gave. Sloppy parenting, in my book. Anyway, here is how I feel about the withholding of gifts until after the party - the first time I encountered this was when my son was little and I was in attendance at the party. I was a bit disappointed. Heck, half the fun of giving a gift is seeing the reaction right? Full disclosure here - I am one of the most thoughtful gift givers on the planet. Now, my main point is this. This holding back of gifts so that they can be opened in a controlled environment away from the hustle and bustle, and god forbid - uncertainty! of real time just smacks of the detriment of the current culture we live in which is controlled communication 24/7. It sickens me that we are so busy living highly electronically controlled lives that there is barely any face time, and even telephone conversations are becoming rarer and rarer. Opening gifts at birthday parties is an age old convention! And it's a fun one! All you parents who are abandoning it in favor of risking overstimulation, hurt feelings for the ones who didn't measure up, jealousy, etc. are just prime examples of the worst of helicopter parenting. This is yet another modern cultural practice that I do not agree with!

One more thought worth pondering to all you modern thinkers out there- what is the point of giving presents at a birthday party? If we are going to sequester the act into a private activity, why bother at all? So, the kid can accumulate more stuff and not even recognize or care who provided that stuff? Yes, it is exciting/stressful to open gifts in front of an audience but that's part of life, and all the messiness that comes with it. Too much sequestering/privatizing/controlling isn't healthy. Old School party maker


I'm all for opening gifts in front of the giver. It's the polite thing to do. As a gift giver, I want to see the reaction on the face of the receiver. We do it a little differently than I've seen posted here: When I host parties for my children, I have them open the present when their guest(s) arrive, and I write it down. We thank them for the gift and put it away for later. If the kids want to play with it, I explain that we have other activities planned and that I'm putting it away for now. I hate it when the gifts are saved for later!
I just want to thank and emphatically agree with whoever wrote about how the parenting culture has gone over-the-top w/ this new trend to open gifts in private. As a party-goer, I must say that I find it incredibly disappointing to not be able to witness the birthday child open the gift that we took care and time to pick out. For me, the only ''thank you'' we need is to see the child open the gift and smile and for us to give a little wave that says, ''We got that for you!'' Part of the fun and tradition of birthday parties and gifts is for the givers to witness the child's joy and to even be able to explain to the child why they picked that gift for them -- you know, the normal conversations that often taken place around the Christmas tree on that cheerful morning. Same idea with bday parties. I think it's rather silly for us to get caught up in whether or not we can dutifully keep track of who got what -- thank-you cards are a piece of paper in an envelope with mostly canned, short messages. But the delight on a child's face?! Priceless!! old school
I have to agree with ''Old School Party Maker'' on the etiquette about opening gifts at kid parties. I, personally, think it's a little silly that we spend time agonizing about how to protect kids from the ''stress'' of opening presents at parties. Really? I realize that times change and so much culture and customs, but I agree 100% that if we are worried about how stressful/impersonal gift-opening can be for a child, we are really doing a disservice to our kids (who must ultimately attend school! apply for college! work a job...!!).

Half the fun of the party is watching the delighted gift-recipient receive his or her presents--and even if these moments aren't smooth and perfect, they represent great opportunities for social learning, sharing, and taking joy in making others happy. A wise woman once said that kids ''need to use a mile of band-aids and eat a pound of dirt'' to grow up properly; I'm sure she had some adage or other about birthday parties and presents/cake.

If the gift receiving is too stressful, perhaps there are too many kids at the party (I kind of believe our parties are out-of-control in size these days, too, but it's not PC to invite a handful of friends anymore...). For the record, I am an attachment parent, breast-fed my daughter until she was nearly 3, and am pretty ''Berkeley'' in most other ways, but I draw the line here. I've attended parties where we never saw our gift opened AND never received a thank-you note (another thing that doesn't go over too well with me).

That said, I know I'm old school, but sometimes I feel we are worrying way too much about the little things in our children's lives. Learning to be gracious should be a priority, and we give our kids too few opportunities to do so, IMO

Just my 2 cents Had Plenty Fun at Parties Where Gifts Were Opened


Hi there fellow mom,
wow, i never realised this was such a fraught thing but have recently had an event which solidified my opinion. In my youth, it was much more choreographed, with my very proper British mum keeping things in bounds, gifts opened and documented, notes of thanks sent. My older daughter must have had very polite friends, b/c we opened gifts with her little group cheering and organised. Thank you notes were dispatched without a blink. My younger daughter seems to have friends who have some self-control issues; she just had her 5th b-day party and as I was escorting some of her friends and their parents out, one of her little friends took it upon herself to ''help'' my daughter open all of her gifts and now of course we don't know whose lovely gift came from whom. The great part is that this feral little monster (whose parents have no clue) has a birthday party coming up and I hope the same thing happens to them, though they probably won't even care (I'm thinking of gifting her with a drum kit)! As this is not the first time this has happened, I'm opting for putting the presents in a place where litte hands can't get to them, and opening them later. reduced to sending a mass thank you email. Ick!

Pros and cons of opening gifts - 4yo's bday at the park

June 2007

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. another way
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 else's.

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, just thanks.

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 them! Cece


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. Partying Mama


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. Nat


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 little:

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. Alameda mom
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. Andi
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 warrant any gift ritual, so pack them up. However, home and garden parties seem like a nice place to sit everyone down to watch the gifts unfold. Both ways are fun. The nicest response or reaction is to actually hear about how the child enjoyed the gift later with 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. My opinion
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 thank-you notes).

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. lori


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
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