Bring Back the Present-Opening at Parties!

My daughter just celebrated her 7th birthday. As the guests arrived, my mother collected all the gift bags and wrapped boxes. When do you want her to open the gifts? she asked. Oh, I said, We don’t do that anymore. She looked at me like I had two heads: But it’s a birthday party!

Indeed. When I was a kid the absolute best part of my birthday parties wasn’t the cake. Or the song and dance from Chuck E. Cheese (god help us all), or the pizza. It was opening the presents from my friends. Sitting at the head of the table, gifts piled in front and all my friends gathered ’round, I’d rip through the paper, read funny cards aloud, and squeal at whatever came out of the box — because it was so silly, so funny, or just so perfect. And everyone would laugh along. At least that’s how I remember it.

Isn’t that how so many of you remember it too? So why did we abandon opening gifts at birthday parties? I imagine it’s for one of these reasons: 1) We don’t want to make a kid feel bad who didn’t bring/couldn’t afford a gift as nice as someone else’s, or 2) We don’t want another kid to feel bad if the birthday kid makes a face or says, I already have that/don’t like that (which, yes, is a possibility).

But for sake of a few (possible) hurt feelings we are missing the point of giving a gift in the first place. When you separate the gift giver from the receiver, your child doesn’t connect the gift with a person, their friend. Instead it’s just another thing without meaning attached to it. It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn to say thank you — and mean it! (On a practical level, it’s also harder to keep track of who gave what; cards and presents frequently get detached or mismatched.)

Opening gifts together is also better for the gift-giver: The child who gives the gift gets to see the look on their friend’s face. How wonderful is it to see your friend happy because of something you picked out? Kids will take more pride in giving gifts and likely want to give gifts that they know their friend will like. (Even if they are small — we all know that little kids love cheap things. Hello Squinkies and Rainbow Loom bracelets.) I’d venture that most kids now don’t even know what gifts their parents picked out for their friends — so the gift really isn’t a gift anymore. It really is a just a thing. A thing you do. A price of admission to the party. Is that what we want to teach our kids?

So who’s with me? Can we bring back the gift-opening ritual?

Psst: If you’re planning a birthday party now, you should check out Parents’ birthday-party planner. We don’t talk about gifts in there. But maybe we should! You can also shop for the perfect birthday gift at Shop Parents.

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