Why I've stopped giving out party favors.

By Tanya Egan Gibson
March 26, 2014
Credit: 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.

Parents Magazine

Comments (1)

April 28, 2019
so you've given alternatives to party favors so you still agree with giving out something at parties you just don't want toys and candy ... which I get we didn't like that either so we my sister in law and I, did things like .... the year she had a Spice Girls birthday the party favors were spice girl Pencils, Notebook,and stickers, which we cleverly stuffed in balloons which we inflated and carpeted our residence with 200 of them we gave the kids a paper bag puppet they made and at the end of the party they each grabbed 10 balloons and popped them whatever they found in their balloons they could keep or trade as they saw fit these items were not useless, as that was approximately 3 pencils 2 notebooks and 5 stickers for each child. you don't have to give out candy and cheap crap you can give out stuff that makes sense like we did ... what parent wouldn't want to have to buy one less note book or pencil for school?