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Bagging the Goody Bag

party favors

Johnny Miller

Please accept my apology. I'm the parent who gave your child squishy frogs, foam animal-head visors, and hopping mini toys whose springs fell out and rolled under your couch.

But no more. I'm calling a ban on squeeze-'em plastic hippos with bulging eyes, LED glitter balls, and other accoutrements of the birthday party bag/Chinese takeout box/beach pail/popcorn bucket.

 

I'll just say it: I hate goody bags. I think they're a waste of money. I don't like what's in them, nor their impact on the environment. Most of all, it bothers me that kids, including mine, expect to get stuff on an occasion when they're supposed to be feting someone else.

While some parents feel obligated to provide favors, others (like me) are just as frustrated about their children receiving them. Goody bags often contain candy, even though many parents would prefer the sugarfest end at the party. Others could do without trinkets that quickly get forgotten, stepped on, or swallowed by the vacuum.

"At this moment, in my daughter's drawer there are three unopened party bags filled with tiny animals, candy, and key chains," says Julie Ansara, a California mom. "I guess it's a nice way to say, 'Thanks for coming,' but isn't that what the thank-you note is for?" Indeed. Traditionally, the focus of a birthday party used to be the birthday child. "The guests would have to await their own birthday to receive presents and be the center of attention," says William Doherty, Ph.D., author of Take Back Your Kids. Favors send children the message that every celebration is an occasion for getting something.

Apparently not all parents agree with my grinchy take. In a recent Parents poll, 49 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, "Yes to goody bags! Kids are only little once and they enjoy that stuff." That's more supporters than I'd like but still leaves a lot of parents not in, er, favor.

 

A better idea that's gaining popularity is a single favor. Thirty percent of our poll respondents agreed: "One simple favor related to the theme of the party (like a take-home craft) is fine."

Still, 21 percent said favors need to die, agreeing: "No to goody bags or favors. The party itself should be enough!" And according to etiquette expert Peggy Post, while a favor is a nice gesture, there's no rule that parents need to give them.

So let's stop doling out the junk. After all, children adapt. A mom I know says that when she first stopped giving out party bags, "I thought some kid would ask, 'Where's my favor?' But not a single one did."

Alterna-Goodies: Consider sending kids home with one of these affordable gifts to replace the usual assortment of stuff.

  • Ice-cream gift certificates $2 and up; baskinrobbins.com
  • Homemade friendship bracelets
  • Storybooks $4 and up; scholastic.com
  • Crayons or sidewalk chalk $1 and up; crayola.com
  • Play-Doh Coloring books $1.50 and up; doverpublications.com
  • Small donations to a charity of child's choice
  • Puzzles $1 each; dollartree.com
  • Gift cards for a hot cocoa
  • Amazon.com single-song download credits
  • Bubbles
  • Jump ropes $14 for 12; orientaltrading.com
  • Homemade snacks for the road -- like granola, muffins, or trail mix

Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Parents magazine.