Should You Request “No Gifts Please” for Your Toddler's Birthday Party?

You've cleared the clutter just in time for another round of toys. Now what?

You've KonMari-ed, cleared the clutter and cut the stuff. Now your toddler’s birthday is right around the corner, complete with a party and promises of new piles of toys gifted by well-meaning grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends.

Thinking about the amount of toys a young child will receive is enough to give some moms and dads mild chest pains (not to mention writing dozens of post-party thank-you notes). The idea of simplifying gift giving is gaining steam among parents of young children, but asking that people abstain from bringing a gift to the birthday boy or girl can still shock and even offend some relatives and friends.

So how do you ask for “no gifts please” without wreaking havoc on everything everyone has ever known about toddler parties? Here are some tips.

Remember: Your toddler won't mind.

Judith Wagner Fotografie

Even though it seems like your toddler is growing up too fast, it's unlikely that he or she has totally grasped the idea of consumerism, especially if their TV time is still limited. Unlike preschoolers and older children, toddlers aren't completely obsessed with the idea of receiving tons of gifts. So if you're worried about your child being upset at his or her birthday party -- don't be. It's going to be a special day with lots of excitement with or without a massive pile of presents. 

Make sure you mean it, but be realistic.

The reality of asking birthday party guests not to bring gifts is that some people will end up bringing gifts anyway and some won’t. It's unlikely relatives, especially grandma and grandma and other close family, will show up empty-handed. Moreover, you don't want to make this request some kind of test. Keep in mind that you ultimately can't control whether or not people follow directions, and if the choice people make is going to bother you — either way — just don’t do it.

Keep the message simple.

There's no need to get super cutesy with the request that guests not bring gifts (“Your presence is our present,” etc.). A simple "No Gifts Please" near the RSVP information on your printed or electronic invitation is perfect and clear. 

Don't send mix messages.

When asked if you are sure about this “no gifts thing" — and you will be asked — stand your ground... politely, of course. Think twice before you launch into a people-appeasing, wishy-washy answer along the lines of, "You don’t have to bring a gift, but you can if you want. Some people might bring small stuff." That sounds like you're not so sure about the no-gifts policy. Just answer simply that your guest shouldn't come with a gift. 

Understand that people will react differently.

It is possible that some of your guests will regard a parent’s request for no birthday gifts as an affront — they might be convinced it's a trick or just simply think it's rude or sad for the child. Others won't be phased by your request and will gladly follow directions (saving themselves some time and money in the process). Whatever the case may be, stick to the party line, but be prepared to answer questions. 

Keep any gifts out of sight during the party.

At parties, the gift table is often displayed front and center. If you’re asking people not to bring gifts, don't do this. More importantly, don't open gifts at the party. Regardless of whether you've asked for no gifts, when you’re entertaining families with young children, making them sit through 20 or more minutes of gift opening can be tedious. When you've asked for no gifts, displaying and/or opening presents can make people feel uncomfortable if they didn’t bring one. Tuck the gifts under a table or in a room and open them when the party is over. 

Offer an alternative.

Some people feel very strongly about bringing a gift to a party or providing some kind of token of their affection for the birthday girl or boy. If you feel your guests will not be happy with a "no gifts" request, here are a few gift alternatives you can try: Ask that the guests make a small donation to a charity in your toddler's name; ask that each guest bring an gently used toy or item of clothing to be donated; ask guests to contribute to your toddler's college fund; ask that each guest bring one book for your child in lieu of a larger gift. 

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