Seeing “Please, no gifts” on a child’s birthday party invitation has become more and more common in recent years. And I can understand why. They already have so much stuff. They’re probably going to be getting gifts from grandparents or aunts and uncles, too. Perhaps most importantly, we don’t want to put an unnecessary financial burden on another parent.
But I have found kids’ birthday parties to be such a great opportunity for my son to practice being both a thoughtful gift-giver and a gracious receiver that the good lessons outweigh the once-a-year spoiling.
From the time when my son, at three years old, started getting invitation after invitation to parties at a local indoor bounce house facility, I’ve taken him to the store to shop for birthday gifts. Even at three years old, I could begin to teach him how to think through what his friend might like. “What’s on her backpack?” I’d ask or “What does she like to do at school?” From there, we might decide that she’d like a Paw Patrol figure or a new jump rope.
He also likes to pick out a special card (he always wants to give the funniest card) and insists on helping wrap the gift so that it’s truly from him, from start to finish. And from the first birthday party we ever shopped for, I implemented a hard and fast rule: Nothing for you today. We’re not shopping for you; we are shopping for your friend. If you want to look at stuff you like, you can look after we’ve got everything we need for the birthday boy/girl.
He could see, firsthand, how it took time and effort to come up with a gift idea, which in turn has made him a gracious gift receiver. “I actually didn’t really like that one very much,” he once told me after a party. “But it was just so nice of her to think of me and pick something out, so I said I liked it because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”
Other (less fun) options
Some commenters in the r/Parenting subreddit had other suggestions for ways parents could sort-of-but-not-really allow for gift-giving. “Could you come up with a some kind of ‘gift’ that she can pick out and enjoy with all her friends at the party instead of receiving gifts from her friends?” asked u/dasch4.
Or ask for items to be collected for donation at the local animal shelter?
Or ask for cards instead of gifts?
But giving a “gift” to friends in the form of a fun party is kind of what a party is, buying stuff for animals instead of kids doesn’t solve the financial burden issue and cards are ... less fun than gifts.
Please do not do this
Then there’s the suggestion I came across that feels more awful and icky than any of them: Hosting a “Fiver Party.” The premise of such a party is detailed in this piece on Motherly:
In short, a fiver party is an end to all of our kid present-buying woes! It is simply a birthday party where all the little guests bring a $5 note to go towards a big ticket present that the parents have bought and which the child really wants.
There’s no gift, no stress and no expense.
I know, brilliant, right?!
No, that is not brilliant. It is weird and awkward for kids to give each other money for their birthdays. And I’m not sure you’ll have enough kids/$5 bills to get the “one big and exciting present that they’ve been dreaming about,” as the author anticipates.
One idea I can get behind
If you’re leaning toward wanting to allow gifts but are worried about being a burden to a parent on a tight budget, consider putting a note on the invitation that indicates that homemade gifts or gifts under $10 would be appreciated. For $5-$10, kids could still pick out some fun art supplies, a board game or a variety of things from the dollar store.
It’s a birthday party and gifts are fun.