So you recently got an invitation to a birthday party and it says “no gifts please”. What do you do? Do you come to the party empty-handed or do you bring something just in case? What does it mean? Is it obvious or is it just trying to be polite? Here is a breakdown of good etiquette when it comes to getting invitations for children’s birthday parties when parents request that no gifts be purchased. And yes, it’s absolutely ok and their prerogative to request no gifts at the party.
When a birthday party invitation asks for no gifts, it really does mean no gifts. Most parents are not trying to sugar coat anything, make anyone feel better, or even upset you. When I tell someone I don’t want gifts for my kids, it means I don’t want anything else in my house. I spend all year trying to declutter, manage toys, and weed out stuff that doesn’t get played with anyway. On my daughter’s first birthday card, we said “no need to bring a gifty, but if you insisty, please something wooden, thrifty, or nifty” to encourage our preferences, not buying new, and something made.
In trying to live more minimalistically, this also means teaching our children to not expect things at birthday or Christmas, but also that there is no need to buy into the consumerist mentality. We can get what we need when we need it, we can get some things we want on occasion, and we can celebrate without a pile of presents. In fact as parents, we have only given our daughter one present each year at her birthday, and strive for gifts she will never forget versus the ones that get broken and lost.
1. Respect their wishes
Seriously. Don’t bring a gift. It doesn’t matter how awesome or not awesome the gift you were considering is. Just don’t bring one. Most parents aren’t thinking “I am going to ask for no gifts just to be convenient for other parents”. They are truly wanting what’s best for their child and their family.
2. Consider bringing a fruit & veggie tray or Drinks
Call up the parents and see if you can bring some sort of food platter for the party. This means you are contributing and helping offset the costs of the party in general and a way you can help without directly getting the child anything.
This can be like the food platter idea or it can mean bringing a cooler of adult beverages if the host(ess) agrees it’s a great idea. Maybe even buy a bottle of wine for the parents. Especially if it’s a first birthday, make it a little celebration of making it through the year.
3. Donate in the child’s name
You can buy a toy and give it to a benevolent organization collecting gifts for under-privileged children, you can make a donation to an overseas mission, and you can even donate money in their name to help homeless children have birthday parties.
4. Take a card
When an invitation asks to not bring gifts, it doesn’t mean you have to show up empty-handed to the party or without a card. You can write a heartfelt note to the child that can be read in years to come. And if you’re really pushing the envelope on no gifts, you might include something like a sheet of stickers, a coloring sheet, or something else that fits inside the envelope.
5. Get a gift card for the parents
Get a $5 Starbucks card, $10 gas card, or even just a grocery card. It’s something that says “I want to be a blessing to your life, without cluttering your house”. It’s also a great way to encourage parents, especially newer moms. From needing coffee and energy, gas to drive their kids to every attraction, and the high price of feeding little mouths, it’s unlikely the parents will be upset you did this to celebrate them.
6. Ask if pass would be acceptable
If you know many of the attendees or just have a bunch of extra money sitting around, see about getting a science museum, children’s museum, zoo, or something similar pass. It would be a way to contribute to something the memory-making the family would already do and won’t contribute to the mess.
7. Make a wishing tree
Again, talk to the parents, but a nice idea might be to make a wishing tree for the child. Each guest can write their name on a designated piece of paper, shape, piece of wood, or whatever medium you choose and then they write a favorite memory and/or a wish for the coming year for the child. Then they hang it on the tree.
The tree can be a part of bedroom decor, or each memory can be taken down, read, and saved in a memory box. A picture of what we did for my daughter’s second birthday is below. I have also seen people do thumbprint trees as a piece of art to hang.
8. Get a gift card to a local child-friendly hangout
If you can’t afford a year’s pass or if don’t have a group of friends and family to go in on it together, then see about just getting a gift card to a local place. It’s a thoughtful gesture to both the child and the parents and can be to a museum or fun attraction. Again, even a gas card or public transportation ticket to get them to an extraordinary park or something would be a great “gift”.
9. Buy a savings bond
Maybe not the most popular idea, but one that is still an option. Why not save up every little penny for their future?
10. Offer to help at the party
One of the best things we can all do at any party, whether the parent asked for no presents or not, is to be a helping hand. You can easily help decorate, cook food, clean up messes, and just be present at the party.
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 5 children living on a farm in New England. She believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience and has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development. She is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!
I LOVE this. I seriously think I might include this link with my invitation the next time we have a birthday party.
Thank you Michelle! I know I will be linking to it for my friends and family. Especially since we downsized, we just don’t need or have room for stuff. And it actually feels a lot better that way.
Whoa, sorry, but I seriously disagree with this article. First of all, I don’t think that a parent buying too many toys for their kid throughout the year makes it okay for them to deny family and friends the joy of participating in their child’s birthday celebration, by choosing and presenting a thoughtful gift. Then, the suggestions are weird! Bring a dish? A bday celebration is not a potluck! I was taught it’s rude to bring a dish, because the host will likely have their menu planned out. Get a gift for the parents? It’s not their birthday, it’s the child’s! Ask the mom if such-and-such gift is okay? That’s demanding way too much oversight into something that I see as an invited guest’s privilege. Rather than ask guests to perform contortions around a very simple and old tradition for various personal lifestyle choices (not the least of which is, apparently, buying your child way too many clothes and toys), take a chill pill and don’t try to micro-manage your guests. There is always the simple option of donating or regifting any unwanted gifts, while still graciously thanking the giver for wanting to do something special to celebrate the birth of your child.
It’s ok for you to disagree; however you’re assuming that it’s a parent buying too many toys asking for others to not buy toys. In fact it’s many times parents that want to keep a minimal lifestyle that ask for no gifts. And no one is denying anyone the joy of being at the party. When someone brings a gift and it is opened at the party and it’s not something that is appropriate for the child (for whatever reason whether it’s developmentally, something that could pose a danger, or some other reason that the parents decide), it opens the door to struggles and even a lot of heartache trying to take away or hide a gift that’s been given to them. So regifting or donating isn’t that easy if a child feels it’s theirs.
It’s a parent’s decision to make. And I have NEVER heard of anyone upset by asking for help. And if any of the other suggestions are too much oversight, the very first suggestion of just come and don’t bring a gift as asked is perfectly acceptable.
Again, you’re free to your opinion, but this is for people who really feel the desire to do something for a child when the family has very kindly requested for no gifts.
I understand your point of view, but there’s a flip side to each argument. Example: we lived a blessed life and we’re throwing a big party for our kiddo this year. The guest list is around 70 people (family, kids, parents of kids from playgroup… it’s a large gathering). Assuming each household brings a gift, we’re looking at 50 (FIFTY!) gifts for ONE four-year-old, which is just absurd. I’m fine with family or a close friend bringing a gift on the side on another day, but to have that many gifts show up at a party is just crazy. I realize it’s my job to control the guest list, but our son wanted all his friends present, so we’re obliging this year, so we felt it was tacky to do anything but request no gifts for him. Instead, we’re asking for small item donations to a local charity. I personally think people are relieved to not have to do the ceremonial gift-trade that toddler birthdays have become.
I love this article. As an aspiring minimalist parent this really summed up my feelings about my son’s upcoming birthday. Thank you so much for sharing!!
Love this post! Thanks for some of these suggestions. I figured the “no gifts” request would be from parents that want to ensure more kids would be able to come to the birthday celebration. That way, there would be no pressure for the family to purchase a gift. They might skip the party otherwise! It can get expensive to attend every single birthday party your child is invited to and have to bring a gift every time. I think Helen should probably relax and not take it so personal.
I really love this post – thank you! We’re requesting no gifts at my 4-year old’s party this year and your post made me feel better about it, but also made me think about it from the guest perspective. We decided that instead of gifts we’re going to collect from a wish list from a local children’s hospital. Most of the items are inexpensive, and we thought it might be a good way to not leave people feeling like they’re coming “empty-handed,” but also do some good for our community. Thanks again for the excellent post!
Instead of a savings bond why not make a gift to the child’s 529 plan. In many states that is tax deductible for the gift giver and will ultimately benefit if child when they go to college.
Not all kids go to college for various reasons and it does count against their FAFSA applications. Roth IRAs can be used for college or retirement though, and they don’t count against FAFSA… so that might be an option.
We threw a no-gift party for our daughter’s 7th b-day last year, and we’re planning on doing it again, mainly because a) she’ll still get more than enough presents from family and b) we know that a lot of families in her school struggle financially. (And because of b, we don’t really feel comfortable asking people to donate to charity instead.) Last year, we had a couple of parents ask if we really meant it and tell us that their kiddos felt nervous attending without bringing a gift, so we suggested they bring a flower instead. Our daughter got a bouquet and a little potted plant and was THRILLED. The nice thing was that we could set them out without making other guests feel uncomfortable.
I appreciate some of your suggestions. I believe it’s important to teach our children how to give and celebrate life and you provided some good alternatives to just showing up empty handed. Thanks!