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

giftgiving

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.

First, let me say, that I am rather old-fashioned and think a magical part of childhood is when friends bring presents to your birthday party. Unless they are having a really big party, I rarely say “no gifts” on my girls’ invitations for that very reason. And not because I want my girls to have more stuff, but because I want them to learn to be gracious and say thank you when a child hands them a present and then later when writing them a thank you note.

I think the “no gifts” bandwagon is an (understandable) cultural backlash to people going way overboard with classmate 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!).

If I had it my way, the solution would be for everyone to tone down their gift budget. I think a  $5-15 gift is perfectly acceptable for a child. One princess tiara instead of five. A set of colored pencils, instead of two coloring books, markers, and stickers. Books are always great and affordable. This crayon case is one of my go-to gifts and only $12 – and includes the crayons!

But back to the question! Here is how I would handle the situation graciously and thoughtfully:

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 request no gifts, don’t bring one. But you can bring a card  made or signed by your child. This gives your child something to hold when he arrives at the party and shows his thoughtfulness toward his friend.

mlthankyounote

2. If you absolutely must give the birthday girl or boy a nice gift, consider dropping it 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.  Tie a big lollipop or stickers to the card you are bringing.  Doing this allows your child to feel good about bringing a present to his/her friend, but it’s also small enough that a thank you note is not warranted.


If you are a mom who is contemplating a “no gifts” party, consider having 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.

How do you handle gift-giving to children in your life? Would love to hear some more tips! 

Happy Giving!

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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!
    Hugs!

    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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