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Birthday Gift Glut

When a child plans a birthday party and invites her entire class, she may be considered inclusive. However, the image of a table groaning under the weight of dozens of presents may irk her parents. How much is too much? How do you limit gift glut when any birthday girl can tell you that the most important part of her big day is opening the countless presents? It may seem an impossible task to address, but there are alternatives that can promote empathy and generosity while helping to contain the materialism and excess that can accompany a typical birthday party. img_1616

Prime The Parents
Some people love to give presents, even if the invitation clearly states “no gifts.” It may be as hard to explain this idea to some parents as it is to some children. Try to get parents on board in advance so that they don’t buy a gift unnecessarily. Ask them to respect your efforts to limit the amount of “stuff” in your child’s life. Who knows? You may be a cultural trendsetter.

Age Appropriate Approach
Explaining to a child that guests won’t give them presents on their birthday may feel like trying to tell them that Santa Claus will skip your house this year. Regardless of your child’s age, if you want to present alternatives to collecting a pile of birthday gifts, such as donating gifts to a charity, make sure to introduce it well before the party to give them a chance to get used to the concept. Read on to see ways to adjust your plan to your child’s age.

Make A Gift (pre-school)
Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and researcher and who has written about mindful gift-giving for Psychology Today Magazine, says pre-school children may be too young to grasp the concept of collecting gifts at a party to give to people in need. However, they love to make gifts for people they know. Tell your guests they do not need to bring a gift—they will make one as part of the party. Provide gift-wrap and the kids can wrap them up, take them home and give them to whomever they like.

Give a Book-Take a Book (early elementary)
How many times has your child come home from a party with a bag full of plastic trinkets that soon end up in the garbage? This simple, inexpensive idea promotes reading and big heartedness while offering a fun surprise for each guest to open. Ask each guest to gift-wrap a favorite book and bring it to the party. When they arrive, they will place the books into a basket. Add a book from your child as well. When guests leave, they can select a book from the basket as a “goody” to take away. Your child will be able to open a book as well and this becomes her birthday “present” from all her guests.

Make It Personal (older elementary)
Perhaps a family at your school or in your neighborhood is going through a rough time. At our school, one girl’s aunt and uncle died in a plane crash, leaving children behind. In response to the tragedy, children from school who had birthday parties began to ask for donations to this family, in lieu of presents. When guests arrived at a party, they simply dropped money into a bowl. Kids at the school raised thousands of dollars to help the orphaned children with food, housing and education costs.

Choose A Charity (tween)
Instead of bringing a fancy birthday gift, ask that each child bring a pair of new or gently used shoes to donate to children who need them. Homeless shelters, orphanages and other non-profits are always in need of items such as children’s shoes, new socks and underwear. Donating items for other children will make more sense to young guests than asking them to give to an organization that serves other populations. Place a box near the front door for guests to drop their donation in. Once you select an organization for your donation, invite your child’s friends to accompany you when you drop off the goods so they can see where their donation is going.

Work Party (teen)
Your teenager is old enough to really contribute the time and elbow grease it takes to help others by volunteering with a non-profit organization. Instead of a traditional teen slumber party, organize an outing to feed the homeless, clean up a beach or help build shelters. Opportunities for young volunteers are countless and your teen will gain untold benefit from the experience.

Birthday Party Burnout
Materialism is something that needs to be addressed year-round, not just at birthday time, advises Dr. Price-Mitchell. But the birthday party circuit is always a good place to start. Talk with other parents. If attending multiple events every weekend seems overwhelming to you, you are probably not alone. Consider coordinating events by grouping birthdays together. Kids can have fun planning a party with their friends and some may even find it a relief to share the glare of the spotlight and the burden of hosting. Several families can co-host a party each month or each season for all the kids born during that time. Pitch in on expenses and host the event at a park, ice rink or bowling alley so that no one family has to accommodate the whole crowd at home.

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