19 answers

Gifts for a Three-year-old's Birthday Party

Hello, Mamas!
I have a question about gifts for my son's birthday party next month. Long story short, we'd like to invite various friends who either didn't invite us to parties this year, but have in the past or never have (that's not the issue; all of that is cool) or have invited us to their parties and requested "no gifts." I'm in a quandry about whether or not to put "no gifts" on our invitations. We certainly have toys to play with, but to me, part of a birthday party is opening gifts, (Hope that doesn't sound selfish.) and I must admit it's nice to see your son's face when he opens something he didn't expect. I've thought about putting "no gifts" and maybe suggesting a small, like one to two dollar donation for a children's museum, farm, etc. that we'd take and give the next time we go there. (Not sure if that's tacky, to ask for money, or not.) But then I think about our families, whom I know will get him something regardless. I don't want the other guests to feel awkward if he opens family gifts in front of everyone, but I guess we could wait and do that later (problem being family will all leave a different times.) Bottom line is I don't want to seem selfish by asking for gifts, especially from people for whom we did not buy a gift when we were or were not invited to their parties. At the same time, I want to take our families in consideration. I'm sure I'm making this too complicated, as usual, but could really use some advice.
Thanks, Mamas!

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So What Happened?™

Thanks, Mamas! I received a lot of great responses and found, as I thought, that I was worrying way too much about the "gifts" vs. "no gifts" thing. Also received some good ideas for possible alternatives in the future. I ended up not putting anything on the invitations and will advise people accordingly if they ask about a gift. Thanks again!

Featured Answers

I think you can look like an unselfish saint by putting "No gifts, please" on the invite and still rake in the gifts. I haven't met anyone yet who paid any attention to the request for no gifts. Everyone brings gifts anyway -- unless maybe it's an activity party outside or something. But it sounds like you want gifts anyway, so just leave it off and have a standard birthday party.

I say just send them an invitation, and don't put anything about gifts on it. When people are invited to birthday parties, you just KNOW you buy a gift. I think a 'no gifts' birthday party is weird! And if the people who you guys went to their party and didn't buy a gift, because they requested no gifts, we'll I guess you can just show them how much fun it is!! They probably felt the same way you are too. And I wouldn't write anything down about money at all, that is tacky. Some people may call you and ask you for gift ideas, that is when you can say it's not necessary, or don't spend too much, etc. Hope you have a great time!!!!

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As someone who has done "no present" parties... We ABSOLUTELY bring (and love bringing) gifts to other's parties.

Our "no present" parties are a practical, not moral, judgement. Kiddo gets *at least* 20 gifts for every Bday just from family. So if we're inviting more than 4-5 kids, WE DON'T WANT ANYMORE!!! We already space out his bday presents so it's not an embarrassment of riches. Even if we're having a small party, one year I knew all his *close* friends' parents, like us, were struggling. So we had a "favorite book" exchange. We make it very, very, clear in the invite that there will be at least 30 kids at the party, and that he already receives gifts from family... so we are not saying "no gifts" to be polite, or spartan, but because we really really just want the ring of laughter, and the joy of their presence, and siblings are welcome since it's going to be a wild romp... the more the merrier.

Last year, and this year, have been "normal" (as in I didn't mention gifts), because kiddo chose to have small parties.

But seriously, we've had a party at a pool with over 30 kids, and at a bounce gym with over 50. There is No. Way. On. Earth. we want presents under such circumstances. The "present" we/he gets is the absolute joy kiddo gets from being around so many people (unlike myself, he's a social butterfly, and a GREAT host). He started debating 9 months BEFORE his birthday this year as to whether or not to have a "big" party or a "small" party, and didn't decide until his deadline of 1 month ahead of time, and chose small. <grinning> MOSTLY, because he wants to open presents. But caveated it with a "Next year, at the beach, bonfire, & fireworks, and everyone I've ever met... since it will be outdoors. Or the bounce house with however many they allow. Or my gymnastics place with 36, you can have up to 36. I checked."

Again, we LOVE giving gifts. It's just that GETTING them isn't always practical.

PS... I persoanally think that the advent of the "no gift" trend is in part due to the "large party" trend PLUS the "if you're going to send out invitations in class, there has to be one for everybody" policies that are in most elementary school. When I was growing up, all bdays were held at homes. Which naturally limited size, unless you were wealthy or lived in an apartment with a cabana. Also, you only invited close friends (not your whole class). "Party Places" are also a new "thing"... and many are dirt cheap. The bouncy place $ for parties is through the roof ($300) in our area UNLESS you're on their mailing list, and then it's $70. OMG... NOT have to CLEAN MY HOUSE??? So, so, so worth $70.

2 moms found this helpful

I don't think you need to tell them anything, this is the day of do what you want anyway! Send your invites to whomever yo wish-no matter what happened in the past-it is after all your party for your child. If they choose not to being something that is ok and if they do-make sure you know who did and it is nice to send a thank you-maybe from you and have your son include a picture or something that reflects his appreciation of that gift. (Even if he really has not played with it)-how would they know unless they come over every day and then you know they would bring something he really would like! Thank you's are very important! Even a call to family and friends that helped with the activities. One thing I see happening now is the lack of caring people have for each other even to thank yous-you can teach him how to be a caring person by a simple act of thanks-go for it and enjoy your party (um his).

1 mom found this helpful

Kids love giving and that is a good quality to have. Before I had kids, one of my students handed me a huge box at Christmas. When I picked it up I could tell whatever it was was broken to bits. She was so excited to give me a gift so I went ahead and opened it. It was (or used to be) a vase. Still beaming she told me she dropped it on the way to school but I could just glue it back together later. She was so happy to give me a gift she really didn't care what was inside.
So now, as a mom, I always have my kids hand the gift to the recipient...to all bday parties (even the ones requesting no gifts), to their teachers (even when I contribute to the group gift), to our neighbors at the holidays. It doesn't have to cost much. For me, it is about teaching them to love giving.
AND... getting gifts allows kids to learn to be graceful at receiving gifts.

1 mom found this helpful

I COMPLETELY understand! We are in the exact same boat, and our DD's 3-yr-old party is Saturday. I never decided what to do, so I did nothing, which in essence means she'll be getting gifts. I LOVE Joanna C's idea - will have to do that next year!

1 mom found this helpful

We have WAY too many toys, so for my 4yo's party, I plan on asking people to bring a wrapped book that is in good condition. Then we'll play musical chairs and when someone is "out" they get to pick a wrapped book from the pile and open it. That way, we don't get any more toys, there will be plenty of unwrapping gifts and everyone gets to take home a new book. Plus, I'll have little goodie bags for everyone. So plenty of gift exchanging, but not more un-needed toys. I imagine your 3yo won't care too much about getting gifts-- it will be more about having fun with his friends (and cake & ice cream :-)

1 mom found this helpful

Once upon a time, people just sent out invitations to birthday parties with no mention either way of gifts. The idea was that people who were so moved would bring a gift, those who weren't wouldn't, or wouldn't attend, and the person who issued the invitation would focus on making a party the guests would enjoy. It was considered tacky to mention gifts on an invitation.
I'm really not sure why we've stopped doing that, so my suggestion is not to mention it on the invitation, leave it up to guests to bring a gift if they want, and to bring what they choose and can afford. Just invite people to a party and focus on making the party a nice occasion.

1 mom found this helpful

I think you can look like an unselfish saint by putting "No gifts, please" on the invite and still rake in the gifts. I haven't met anyone yet who paid any attention to the request for no gifts. Everyone brings gifts anyway -- unless maybe it's an activity party outside or something. But it sounds like you want gifts anyway, so just leave it off and have a standard birthday party.

The party and day is about your friends and family recognizing a special day for your son. It is not selfish for a young child to expect presents for his birthday (a cultural norm in our society). I think putting "no gifts" on an invitation is fine, but I always bring something anyway. That's the way I want to do it. Whether or not he was invited to their party is irrelevant. I suggest leaving off the "no gifts" statement and let people do what they like. That is the best way to allow them to acknowledge his birthday: the way they want.

Three-year olds need to start using their pincer mechanism. By age 3-1/2 to 4 years, they will be able t write with some proficiency. The pincer mechanism can be exercised with short fat tongs picking up marbles, with tweezers picking up boxed macaroni, and various other tong-like tools and shapes that you may have in your kitchen. I do not think that this with break anyone's wallet.
If you want to move up a grade, pick a puzzle with the little pegs (as handles) to pick up the pieces. They will occupy themselves for hours, and by watching, you will see their preciseness of their task.

Well here is what I do for my son's invitations. He is going to be three in september and last year we just put a little note in their saying that he had plenty of toys and clothes and that he had really wanted a membership to the Zoo and the Magic House that we were trying to save up for. We (me and my mom and dad) had gotten him things that he needed and things that we wanted to get him, clothes (dress ones for church) plates and utensils, some balls for outside, a wagon, and so on. I had no complaints, and my grandma did get him a little something. I also put that if anyone really wanted to get him a gift that books were ALWAYS welcome and that he loved the little monster trucks that Hot wheels makes. I just didn't want people to go crazy with like $40 toys or anything like that. so it is not tacky, and once I purchased the memberships, i sent a little note to them in the mail just saying that we had purchsed a membership to the zoo with the money they had given. I hope this helped, and enjoy your son's birthday party~!

Do what you want! If you want to have a normal b-day party, just send invitations and do not worry about putting any info about gifts on it. The only reason I can think of why parents of little ones would put 'no gifts' on their invitations is b/c they have a family like mine; I have 2 girls ages 2 and 4 and between the spoiling of their relatives and their mamma's love of good bargains, our house is practically oozing toys and clothes from the walls!!! Their b-days are in Oct. and Nov. and then there's x-mas in Dec!!! We have more toys than we know what to do with and they play together with the same stuff! (and yes, we will be going thru everything this year before their b-days to donate toys they don't play with to make room for the new - an idea i got from a friend) Anyway, it's other people's prerogative to put 'no toys' but that certainly is not the expectation of a child's b-day party. Also, if people haven't had parties, it may be just b/c they didn't want the hassle or something. Bottom line, it's your son's b-day, if you want to give a party, invite whomever you wish and don't write anything about gifts on the invite at all. If people want to be cheap, they can always shop at the dollar store (kids LOVE the toys and trinkets from there!!)

I say just send them an invitation, and don't put anything about gifts on it. When people are invited to birthday parties, you just KNOW you buy a gift. I think a 'no gifts' birthday party is weird! And if the people who you guys went to their party and didn't buy a gift, because they requested no gifts, we'll I guess you can just show them how much fun it is!! They probably felt the same way you are too. And I wouldn't write anything down about money at all, that is tacky. Some people may call you and ask you for gift ideas, that is when you can say it's not necessary, or don't spend too much, etc. Hope you have a great time!!!!

I think you're thinking too much. I will admit, I've had the same thought and have even told people not to feel like they have to bring a gift, but honestly, most people will. If you feel like he gets too much stuff, graciously accept everything and then secretly give somethings away to shelters or hospitals, or save them for Christmas time and donate to Toys for Tots. If people don't feel the need or can't afford it they won't do it or they'll decline the invite. I've had people just bring cards or small gifts when attending my parties and it's fine. Just roll with it!

My son gets enough to open from family and close friends on his big day so we don't have his friends bring him gifts to the party. Plus, his birthday is only 5 days before xmas.

The party we throw is the gift from us and he has a great time. However, we know that people feel odd attending a party empty-handed so we ask that if someone wants to bring something, that it is a donation (not money, an item) to a charity that changes each time. We've done collections for foster kids that have no birthday presents of their own, the animal shelter, a diaper drive and a food pantry. It gives us all a sense of what life is really about when we drop off the donation as a family. He enjoys his birthday very much with all his friends and does not expect a ton of gifts, most of which we don't need.

Of course, some people still like to bring him gifts and these are obviously accepted graciously and enjoyed. We simply don't open them at the party so that those that didn't or couldn't (many of our friends cannot afford even a little $10 gift, esp with so many birthday invitations) don't feel left out. Plus, when we have a party that is only 2 hours long, we don't want to waste 1/2 hour+ just having the kids sit around and watch someone else get stuff. They all want to be having fun!

And at three, they don't really quite understand that the toys aren't for them and don't understand how it can be fun to watch someone else receive a gift (the adults get that, but this isn't for the adults).

We have a large group of friends and the majority of them either tell us no gifts or charity gift. It really takes the stress out of finding and paying for presents every 2 weeks and the kids still love going to the parties. My son makes a homemade card for each birthday child so there is still a personal touch and something he can give.

UPDATE: Please don't think I'm against gifts or the wonderful feeling you get giving someone a gift! Part of our mindset started when we attended my husband's nephew's birthday party (I think he was around 6 or 7) and he started crying after all the gifts were opened. His mother explained that what he got was nice but that he was simply expecting more gifts since that what he had at his party the week before! And she wasn't even embarrassed to say that.

A little thing my husband and I do is a small gift or reminder to each other on my son's birthday. It's a milestone for us to have made it another year through his life, too! A true celebration of the day he joined our family.

I think whatever you decide will work out. One of my friends did a donation party and it worked well. They made it known that they were donating to an orphanage. Her child went and picked out "presents" for the children in the orphanage. I also understand the excitement of getting gifts as being part of the birthday experience.

On a side note - I think the hardest part of birthday gift giving is having children sit and watch others open presents - especially at this age. The child who gave the gift is (sometimes) excited to see the birthday child open the gift. Other kids are too excited and want to play. I have been to parties where the parent's expectation is for all the kids to sit and watch while the birthday child opens his gifts. It is a nice thought but it can be incredibly stressful to try to get kids at this age to do anything at the same time quietly. Guest kids also want to play with everything as it is received (birthday gifts are new and exciting to everyone). As they get older there could potentially be the comparision of who gave what. If you decide to have presents and want to open them at the party, consider lowering your expectations of how you do it. We do gifts but let other kids play. We don't make a big production of it. I take pictures of my child with the gift giver and the gift. It helps me remember who gave what. You can also send it with a thank you note afterwards.

As my kids get older and can better understand, I will encourage no gits. I personally find it stressful to pick out a gift for other children when you know that everyone's child (including my own) have more than enough toys.

For now, don't worry about what other families do or what they will think. Make the birthday experience what you want for your child.

I would say for a 3 yr old that gifts are expected. I wouldn't be concerned because someone else put 'no gifts' on their party. You do what you feel is right and leave it up to the guest if and what they want to buy for your child. He's 3 and like you said - part of the party is opening the gifts. Enjoy it and let him enjoy it too - there will be plenty of time in the future to worry about this subject.

Hmm.. Good question. Me personally i'd leave it off the invites. When people call to RSVP and ask what your son would like you can give the family ideas but tell the friends not to worry. If people insist suggest the experiences. "You know Joey loves the kids museums, farm etc."

i agree with you about persents.. heck even at 40 I still want a few presents to open!=)

You're thinking about this waaaaay toooooo much! It's your child, his party. Do what suits your family best & forget about everybody else. We are all human beings, we all have differing opinions, & that's what makes us grow.....the ability to diversify - otherwise as a race we would just stagnate!

As for designating a specific gift idea or amount, please don't! Please allow each family to give from the heart! I hate when I receive an invitation "telling me what to buy"! We're turning into an all-controlling mob.....in today's world - with such a need to "tell or recommend" what we think would be best for other people to do.

& one could argue that that's what I'm doing right now! I'm "telling or recommending" what I think you should do!!! The difference is in the fact that you have asked for assistance, have asked for our opinion. So that opens the door for the rest of my recommendation: if & when someone calls & asks if you have any ideas on a gift for your child.....then, by all means, offer ideas! It opens the door on communication, it creates a story between you & the giver!

I truly hope this party is the time of your son's life!

I wouldn't put "no gifts," or ask for a small donation for the children's farm or museum for your boy's 3rd b-day invitations. Asking for the charity is usually meant for adults (then the the donation can be sent directly to the charity chosen and sent by the friend), I feel it is inappropriate for a young child's birthday. He is just now gettng to the age of actually understanding what birthdays are all about. Your son will enjoy getting gifts from friends and family. For young children that is what makes birthdays fun.... friends, cake and presents. When he is older 8-10 age my child has had some friends ask for books only for their b-days if they are avid readers, which is a fun idea too. I did find it rather odd that you seemed overly concerned about inviting people who did not invite you to or your son their previous parties; this concern is something that you really need to get over or set aside. Realize that you and your son will not be invited to everyone's b-day parties and other parties and that is ok. The same thing will happen as your boy gets older and you can't take it personally or make him think it is ok to get upset if he can't go to everyone's party. As far as gift opening, we always open family gifts on our child's real b-day if the party falls on another day. When our child she was younger sometimes she opened family gifts on the morning of or mid-day of her real b-day. As she has gotten older, she likes to open them after dinner when we have her cake with our immediate family, again on her actual b-day; it works out well. Friends gifts have usually been opened on on whaetever day she has her party with friends over. If the party was big she liked to take them home and open them there, not front of a big group. Either way works pretty well. Good luck and happy birthday to your son.

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