What to do When: A Child’s Birthday Invitation Says “No Gifts”


The first time I got an invitation for a child’s birthday party that said “no gifts” I was torn, but also relieved. One less gift to buy – yay! But when my daughter and I arrived at that little girl’s party, lo and behold, there was a table FULL of birthday presents! Uh oh.

I totally get the “no gifts” bandwagon. I believe it is a trend that is a result of people going way overboard with gift-giving. After all, most children in America don’t need 20 brand new toys on their birthday (on top of what their parents and grandparents give them!). So sensible moms came up with a solution: no gifts at friend birthday parties.

But there are those who are rather old-fashioned and, like me, think a magical part of childhood is when friends bring presents to your birthday party. These people will bring gifts no matter what the invitation says, but in doing so, often leave the other guests feeling guilty for not doing the same.

It’s such a conundrum – so what are we to do?

Here are my ideas for being gracious and thoughtful in this “What To Do When” scenario:

1. If an invitation says “no gifts,” honor that request. If a family has invited the entire class to the party, they are probably requesting “no gifts” to avoid having to find a place for 22 new toys in their house! They also don’t want to have to persuade/bribe/threaten their child to write 22 thank you notes to their friends! I get that. So if they say no gifts, don’t bring one. And don’t feel bad about it either. (However, if your child feels bad about it, then see number 3!).

Teaching children to write thank you notes is an important lesson, but trying to get a child to write 22 is not easy!

2. If you absolutely must give the birthday girl or boy a nice gift, consider dropping it off on their porch before or after the party. Having a table full of gifts at a “no gift” party makes the non-gift givers feel bad. And I’m sure that’s the last thing the host or hostess want their guests to feel.

gift on doorstep

3. If your child really feels like she needs to bring something, consider bringing a small – and I mean so small it’s more like a favor – gift.  Because my seven year old daughter feels self-conscious if she thinks that she’s the only one who didn’t bring a gift, I’ll sometimes let her bring something like the Bath and Body Works keychain set pictured below, which costs all of about five dollars. (The girls at her school love to collect and trade these so it’s not totally random, I promise!). Doing this allows her to feel good about bringing a present to her friend, but it’s also small enough that a thank you note is not warranted (and I will write “no thank you note needed” just to make that clear!).

bbb gift

Another “small” and inconspicuous option is to give a gift card. I think the best gift for a 7-10 year old boy or girl is a $10 Target gift card. That age LOVES picking out something fun for themselves, whether it be an action hero or a few bags of candy. And gift cards are little enough so they don’t draw a lot of attention when you hand it to the child’s mother at the party.

golf gift card holder
The Container Store has the best gift card holders – this one was on sale for $1.19 so I stocked up!

4. If you are a mom who is contemplating a “no gifts” party, another option is to have guests bring a book or toy to donate to a local hospital or Ronald McDonald house. This satisfies those who have a hard time showing up empty-handed at parties and, more importantly, channels those gifts to children in need. You can even say “gently used” books or toys so parents don’t feel like they have to buy something new.

photo: www.parkerandty.com

4. Finally, whether you have children or not, let’s all try to tame down the gift-giving to children. It’s perfectly acceptable to give a $5 coloring book or a $10 puzzle to a child. I love it when people give my children something as simple as new crayons or markers!

On this note, I recently put together the cutest $8 gifts for some eight year old girls who had a joint birthday party. I found these pencil cases and scissors at Target (they seem to be a back-to-school seasonal item, in stores only). These cases are so cute they could also double as a toiletry bag or a little wristlet. One thing I know about girls is that they love bags, compartments, and boxes – anything in which to hide their little treasures!

scissorpencilcase gift
All of this came from Target!

Using cellophane and ribbon I already had at home, these gifts turned out so darling that I wanted to keep one for myself!


Even though they didn’t cost a lot of money, these were totally appropriate and adorable for children, don’t you think?

How do you handle gift-giving to children in your life? Would love to hear some more tips! And if you found this post helpful, please consider sharing on Facebook (click the Facebook button below).

Happy Giving!





More from DoSayGive…

Great Gifts for Children

Valentine’s Day Gift Inspiration 

Classic Children’s Book Collections for Meaningful Gifts 

Splurge vs. Steal: Town & Country Preppy Wardrobe Essentials



Striped Thank You Notes: Target

Brown Craft Paper – The Home Depot

Blue Ribbon on Gift – Jo Ann Fabric

Golf Gift Card Holder – The Container Store

Pencil Cases, Scissors, Pencils, Ribbon, Gift Tags – Target


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18 thoughts on “What to do When: A Child’s Birthday Invitation Says “No Gifts”

  1. Love this! My other favorite idea is to donate a book in the child’s name to the local library. They’ll give you or send an enclosure card announcing your donation, too!

    1. Oh Melanie that’s a great idea- thanks for sharing! It’s nice when people acknowledge a child’s donation, too. That’s wonderful.

  2. Lee I love this post! Kids have so many toys I’ve started trying to give gift cards for a little treat like ice cream or frozen yogurt!

  3. Love this!!! One of my favorite things about birthday parties is that it is an opportunity to teach my son about giving and empathy. I love taking him to the store and getting him to think about what the other child would like (big lesson this week: girls don’t want Spider-Man stuff) and picking out something for someone other than himself. It’s tough, but he’s getting better at it! Next big lesson: the art of graciously receiving a gift you don’t like! 🙂

    1. What a great idea, Sarah Morgan! I am going to start doing that with my children! I’m with you – I think it is such an important thing to teach children the importance of being thoughtful and intentional, which is why I have mixed feelings about the whole “no gifts” request on invitations. You have worded so beautifully what gift giving is really all about. Thanks!

  4. My girls have a slew of aunts, uncles and grandparents and are the only nieces/grandchildren in the family, so we are buried in gifts just from family. I am on a mission to pare-down the stuff in our house – we need another 5Below craft kit like a hold in the head. So, when my oldest was turning 8, I told her I had heard about a boy who donated his birthday money to help conserve wolf habitat. She decided to help dolphins and for 3 years running now, has asked for donations to different organizations in lieu of gifts. Our youngest has done the same – although she has chosen the Liberty Bell and Monk Seals as her causes. Sure, some people still bring something (and it’s nice for them to have a few things to open), but often those are small gift cards, so there is little shame for anyone showing up with “just” an envelope. They still need to write thank yous (even for the donations), but they are learning to feel good by doing good. I’m still working on the family, but have started sending them lists of things our girls could really use (e.g., new winter coats). They appreciate having suggestions. Finally, I’ve also committed to stop contributing to the clutter cycle two ways: (1) providing ONE useful birthday party favor (e.g., book or water bottle) instead of a bag full of cheap junk; (2) giving useful gifts myself – one year all the girls’ friends got Tupperware lunch kits.

    1. Great post, and timely, for me. My daughter was adopted, so for her January party every year, I include an insert in the invitation envelope that says, “No gifts necessary; your presence is your present. Instead, we’d love it if you’d consider making a donation in any amount in Sally’s honor to our friends at Hope Cottage.” To my shock that 1st year, every sweet friend brought a present (with no card- am sure they thought theirs might be the only one :-), which left me trying to Sherlock Holmes who brought what for thank you’s!
      I’ve found there’s no perfect way to pull off a no gifts party, but the awkwardness just reminds me that we are loved and that everyone shows their love in the way that is most comfortable for them- so I keep including my request, and they mostly keep bringing presents (and making a donation as well in some cases) and I smile as I make room for the new toys, or receive the acknowledgement cards from Hope Cottage, and I am thankful for so many and so much!

  5. Such a great idea! We recently went to a birthday party for a one-year-old in Dallas and the parents asked that everyone bring an unwrapped gift, which would be donated to the Birthday Party Project — an amazing organization that provides birthday parties for underprivileged children in the DFW area.

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