Birthday Gifts: To open or not to open during the party

There is quite a debate on parenting discussion boards that I’ve read about whether or not to have presents opened during a birthday party. It seems to boil down to three different scenarios for handling gifts. Here are the pros and cons that I can see in each of them:

Birthday gifts

#1 – Opening Gifts During the Party:

Pros: It is a lot of fun for the guests to help select a gift for their friend. Many times they will even wrap the gift and make a card to go along with it so there is a lot of personal investment. There is a lot of excitement watching your friend open the gift and this gives them the opportunity to offer instant appreciation, which is really satisfying! This helps both children learn about giving and receiving gifts. And, you can’t deny the excitement this holds for the birthday child, it may be the element of their big day they look forward to the most!

Cons: I speak from experience when I side with those who complain that it is boring to watch a child open gift after gift. In many cases it puts the child in a greedy light when they sit on their chair and shout “next!” in a demanding tone two seconds after they have torn through a gift and barely glanced at it as they toss it onto a growing pile. You can teach your child about proper gift recieving etiquette, but sometimes when you are in the moment, anything goes! Many parents worry about jealousy among young guests and that takes away from the fun atmosphere you work so hard to create. Another fear is that the birthday child will not show appropriate appreciation for each gift since it is natural for them to be excited about some gifts more than others.

#2 – Opening gifts as the children arrive:

Pros: The giver gets the satisfaction of seeing their gift opened and the instant appreciation. If you are hosting your party at a venue where you have limited time this allows the gifts to be opened and appreciated without taking away from the time you have activities planned for. Opening them as your guests arrive also gets rid of a little bit of the chaos that often ensues during the all-at-once gift opening.

Cons: It may be difficult to keep track of things if you are busy preparing things for the party, especially if several children arrive at the same time. This can be awkward for a guest who hasn’t brought a gift if they arrive and the birthday child is already opening gifts and expecting one as each person arrives.

#3 – Opening gifts after the party as a family:

Pros: The child is able to take their time reading the cards and opening the gifts. They can write thank you cards or make phone calls to express their appreciation for the guests attending the party and for the gift. This extends the fun of the birthday for the child even after the guests have gone home. Parents recognize the financial burden it can place on families (if you have 4 kids and they all go to 5 parties a year that is 20 gifts!) and they don’t want guests to feel like they have to bring a gift in order to come, or that they have to bring a gift that meets a certain standard. This also frees up time to do what you invited everyone over to do – have a party!

Cons: Some children (and parents) consider it rude when you don’t open their gift right away. They want the feedback and satisfaction that comes from seeing your gift received and appreciated. I can’t help but feel that there would be at least a little bit of disappointment from the birthday child at not getting to open them at the party.

I may only have one daughter, who has only had one birthday, but I have 50 nieces and nephews (I’m not exaggerating)  and have attended my share of birthday parties over the last 25 years. Because of experiences I’ve had, I specifically requested that gifts not be brought to my daughters birthday party and informed guests on the invitation, that gift opening would not be included in the festivities. I wanted the time we spent together to be about celebrating and the fun activities we had planned, not about who bought her what. However, there were a few gifts brought (by her grandparents) and we opened them as the guests arrived, which I felt fine about (because how do you say no to the grandma?). Because it is traditional, if you choose not to open gifts at the party I feel it is crucial to note that on the invitation to help the child and their parents know what to expect. I also feel really strongly that gifts from parents shouldn’t be opened during the gifts from friends if you do choose to open gifts during the party. But, those are just my opinions (I’ve got lots of them). 🙂

Weigh in – I’d love to hear what you have found to work best for your family!