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To Open Or Not to Open?

By Beth Anne Ballance |

Opening presents at Harrison's first birthday party.

When I was a little girl, birthdays were a big deal.  My parents usually held my birthday party at a cool location of my choice, like the local skating rink or McDonalds (when McDonalds still did cool birthday parties).  I even chose the swimming pool a few times.  Invitations would go out in the mail and we’d go skating for a few hours and then have a slice of pizza and cake.  Then I’d sit down and open all of my presents from my little friends —we’d “oooh!” and “ahhh!” over the latest Barbie and My Little Pony.  It was the moment I always looked forward to most as the birthday girl.

Even as a guest, I remember it being so cool to see what the birthday kid received and feeling that bubble of excitement when she’d get closer and closer and closer to opening my gift, something I thought she’d really love.  It was a great way for me to experience first-hand the joy of giving.

But Harrison and I have yet to attend a party where the birthday boy/girl opened the presents in the company of the guests.  I’ve noticed a trend lately not open presents at the actual party.  Why is that?

I admit that we’ve done both ways — for his first birthday, we opened gifts in front of the guests and I think we all had a great time.  Sure, the other one-year-olds toddled over to play with his toys since they didn’t understand the boundaries of gift-giving, but it was perfectly okay.  Then for Harrison’s second birthday party, we didn’t open gifts in front of the guests – I had every intention to but after cake, Harrison was so wiped out that having him open 10+ gifts would have been so overwhelming.

On the other hand, the older he gets the less overwhelmed he is and the more important I think it is for him to be able to thank the gift-giver in person.  And as a party guest, for him to get the joy out of seeing his friend love the present!

But I’ve also heard the argument that opening presents in private decreases any jealousy between friends.  That the non-birthday kids would feel bored and left-out because they’re not the birthday kid.  To that, I might ruffle some feathers but COME ON, PEOPLE.  It’s okay for your kid to not have everything at the same time as another kid (but that’s a whole different post for a whole different day).

What do you think?   Should presents be opened at parties?  Why or why not?

More from BA:

Right versus Wrong parenting.  I’m only batting 50%.

Beth Anne writes words & takes pictures on The Heir to Blair.
You can also find her on the Twitters & Facebook.

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About Beth Anne Ballance


Beth Anne Ballance

Beth Anne Ballance is a born and bred Southern Belle, blogging at okay, ba and using words and pictures to celebrate the challenges of motherhood and the joy of life. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Read bio and latest posts → Read Beth Anne's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “To Open Or Not to Open?

  1. Julia Nelsen says:

    That is a great question.
    I’ve never been jealous at others gifts, but I have had a comment from my sister at Christmas last year that hurt my feelings.
    When the children, under 4 were opening their presents, my sister said it looked like a big charity event.
    That hurt my feeling and I think children who are old enough to open gifts should experience that joy.
    However, if the children are getting faberge eggs that cost $4 million each, I might get a little jealous than if it was a toy truck with flashing lights.

  2. astrid says:

    I agree with you, BA. There seems to be a trend to protect your kid from any sort of hurt feelings or unfairness when really, how else do they learn about being genuinely happy for someone else? I would honestly be more offended if presents weren’t opened-it would seem to undermine the effort and joy that went in to picking out the gift if it’s just tucked away for later.

  3. Nicole says:

    Our son is 3 and we have opened gifts every year. I have been to many parties where they dont. I actually dislike it when they don’t open the gifts. I understand time issues when the parties are at locations instead of home but I like to see the reaction of the receiver I also like that my son says thank you to whomever he received the gift from along with a thank you card. His last birthday many of the guests commented on how my son would want to know who the gift was from before he would open it which is important too.

  4. jess liv says:

    god i hope that your opinion (about allowing one kid a moment in the sun) is the popular opinion; society as a whole tries to hard to make everyone feel special & included nowadays, & while i get the good intention, it just creates a bunch of whiney, overprivileged brats.

  5. melissa says:

    Children need to learn that they don’t always get what everyone else gets and how to act when someone else is getting something. My daughter has been taught since she was old enough to walk that you sit and watch your friends open their presents. You have your birthday and this is their’s. She loves to watch her friends. She gets as excited watching as she does opening. Why do we feel the need to shelter our children from every tiny disappointment in life? We all spent many hours watching our friends open gifts and we aren’t scarred from it. Lol It also makes her an excellent wedding and baby shower guest. :) (kids opening other people’s presents is a pet peeve. Lol)

  6. Dawn S. says:

    We don’t open gifts in front of guests, but not to save kids from jealousy but rather guilt. We request that our friends not bring gifts for our kids’ birthdays each year (our way of reducing kid clutter and just letting the party be about fun rather than gifts), but some do still bring gifts. So we open those privately and send written Thank You notes afterward. He does open family gifts in front of the grandparent givers when they visit around te bday/occasion, though.

  7. Patty says:

    Honestly, I think it’s more about probably not making people who got crappy gifts feel bad. Could be totally off, but I always waited until after the party to open the presents, that way none of the givers of the gifts felt bad about what they got. You may think kids don’t know but how is their 1 my little pony they got going to match up against the biatch who brought 20 my little ponies plus the playset. Probably at 3 and 4 it doesn’t matter, but it will someday.

  8. Leslie says:

    My 4 year old HATES to be the center of attention. At his 4th birthday, the whole process of singing Happy Birthday and opening presents in front of everyone honestly made him so uncomfortable that we’ll probably be skipping the presents next year. He just wanted to hide the whole time. It was awkward for everyone.

  9. Madonna says:

    We’ve experienced both. When we’ve gone to parties at special places where time is limited (and let’s be serious – the kids, including the birthday child, want to just play) and presents haven’t been opened, but we received a thank you note later. And the parties where presents are opened at cake and ice cream and guests are reminding their children that it’s not their birthday.

    At E’s birthday, we opened the gifts during cake and ice cream, but I made sure to give out the goody bags to the other children prior to opening gifts. It seems to help the entire process – especially with a two year old in the heat of July.

  10. melissa says:

    We’ve been to both too. I’ve noticed the younger kids, W included, are just SO over-stimulated with the party/decorations/activities/snacks/cake/etc, that by the time presents are opened (usually toward the end of the party), they’re just ready to snap. We’ve had to pull W out once or twice because he couldn’t understand why HE couldn’t open the presents. I agree that it’s important to teach about giving, but I think at such a young age, the process needs to be short and quick–have them help pick it out, wrap it and sign/make a card, then hand it off at the beginning of the party.

  11. jen says:

    I came back to read the comments … my daughter’s 2nd birthday is in 3 weeks. Last year we asked people not to bring gifts, and everyone did, and everyone hid them around the yard/house because they felt bad that they “broke our rule” and really, she was only 1, so we just did them later (and sent thank yous). This year we didn’t mention it on the invites so I feel torn about opening them at the party. I LOVE Madonna’s idea about giving out the goody bags at present-opening time!

  12. Erin says:

    I think it’s tacky to not open gifts at a party. People went to the time and effort to pick out a gift and they should be able to see the birthday boy/girl open it. It’s kind of a major part of a birthday party, in my opinion!

  13. Michelle B says:

    I prefer to do gift at the party with everyone around. My sister has been considering not opening gifts at the party bc the kids on the other side of the party want to open them as well and play with them before the birthday kid has a chance to. But these kids are old enough to understand and I think it’s more of the parents of these kids need to teach them proper birthday party etiquette. So, I’m all for opening gifts at the party. I think it just adds to the excitement of Jack’s birthday.

  14. Michelle B says:

    sorry, I meant other side of the family…lol.

  15. Shandeigh says:

    We’ve always opened gifts at parties and say thank you right then and there. We’ve never done the whole thank-you card thing, it’s a waste of paper and time. I’d rather have a heart felt hug and thank you from a kid than a impersonal thank you card that I’m gonna wind up hucking into the recycle bin. And lets be honest… it’s mom that has to write up those thank you cards… why make more work for mom?

  16. Andrea says:

    I think it’s always an opportunity to teach your child how to be a gracious giver/receiver.

    I remember when I was being a child and on Christmas or on the way to a birthday party, getting a lecture EVERY time from my mom on how we smile and say thank you for ANYTHING we receive, whether we already have it, like it, or anything. We appreciate gifts because they are our guests way of showing us they love us and want us to have a Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, etc. Sometimes I feel like my generation didn’t get that lecture and now isn’t giving it to their children.

  17. Tragic Sandwich says:

    We haven’t had Baguette open gifts at parties yet, because she really doesn’t understand gifts. She doesn’t realize that they’re for her, and she’s not interested. After one or two, she’ll just leave and do her own thing. Seriously–Christmas lasts for about a week at our house. As she gets older, though, we’ll probably open gifts during the party.

  18. Robin says:

    The trend away from gift opening has really started to rub me the wrong way because so many people are trending away from thank-you notes (which is slightly horrifying to me). If the gift we give is not opened in front of us and no note is sent, how in the world am I to know that the gift was even received?
    So for all the open-later folks: please, for the love of God, send a thank-you after opening gifts!!

  19. Therese says:

    We’ve done both. We have 2 girls – almost 3 & just turned 1. For DD1′s 1st birthday we opened her presents in front of whoever stuck around. It was a decent sized party & a lot of people traveled an hour or more. Since they left earlier than the closer people, they didn’t see her open presents. For her 2nd birthday, we just had a small group of guests & she opened all presents in front of everyone. Her 3rd birthday is coming up & it will be the same as her 2nd.

    For DD2′s 1st birthday we opened later. Again, it was a decent sized party & a lot of people had long trips. We had the party at a community center & had to clean up by a certain time.

    Regardless of when presents are opened, I ALWAYS send a TY card – even if they were opened in front of the guests. I usually include a small picture of the birthday girl at her party & I know that the guests like to receive that.

  20. Meghan says:

    YES. Open the darn presents AT the party! This world has become so “mememememe” and “everyone is a winner!” I think that’s such BS! Did you see the speech the teacher gave for commencement in Boston? I loved it! He truly hit the nail on the head. Kids nowadays are so coddled and wrapped in plastic, it’s ridiculous! Ugh! So, yes… open the presents at the party – I’ve never even heard of NOT opening them. Kids need to learn and understand that they don’t always get their way. Sometimes ya gotta earn it – and being your birthday is one way. :-)

  21. TarheelJean says:

    I don’t know, I’m one of those who says “gifts not necessary” for our parties (lord knows the kid has enough crap!!). So part of the reason I don’t like opening gifts is that then it really feels like an obligation to bring a present. I don’t want to set up that scenario for our guests… we’re throwing a party so my son can enjoy time with his friends, not so people will bring him stuff, you know? I do agree that it’s nice for the giver to see the reaction… but also, with such little kids, who knows what the reaction will be? 2 and 3 year olds don’t know to hide their disappointment if they don’t like the present :)

    I also think it can be sort of a buzzkill at a party. Everyone sits around waiting for the guest of honor to open the present THEY bought, but that’s really the only fun part and it lasts 10 seconds for each kid.

  22. jenny says:

    This may be a regional thing. I grew up and still live in the Northeast, and I have maybe been to 3 birthday parties in my life where gifts were opened. I have never done it. I don’t have a problem with it. My kids are young and take forever. It would take the whole 2 hours!

  23. Joanna says:

    We have only had one party for my daugther so far (she is 18 months), and we had it at a play center where we had 2 hours for the party, and it was all orchestrated by the center. I actually didn’t know until we got there that all presents would be bagged up and given to us to take home to open. It was a big group with lots of little kids, so maybe for the best? But we would have opened them in front of everyone if given the choice. What we did do, is invite immediate family (my brother & his fam/DH’s sister and her fam) over afterwards to watch us open presents and spend more time together. We have a small condo, which is why we opted to do the party elsewhere. In this case, I sent a thank you card to everyone.

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