We just had a birthday marathon weekend. All 3 of my sons were born in the summer…June, August and early September. So, we decided to have two of their birthday parties in the same weekend. Which means we have been spending a fair amount of time thinking about birthdays, birthday parties, birthday presents, donation drives (which we do as part of their parties), birthday dinners, and favor bags. It also means we revive the annual discussion of whether we should offer favor bags. This year, we just might have to change our tune.
My husband and I are not gift people. It's not that we don't want to give each other gifts, it's just that we want to celebrate each other and our love for each other through experiences rather than things. We've tried to moderate this a bit with our kids. I mean kids love presents. And we love to watch them get so excited with presents.
While I love to see them get excited by presents and opening presents, the attitude of entitlement for presents seriously makes me cringe. I promise I'm not a total stodge on this one. I just believe that our kids need balance in order to find appreciation and gratitude for all the parts of their birthday. Perhaps, the most important one, is the people that are there to celebrate with you.
The thing that makes me cringe the most about favor bags? The toys. The cheap toys that cause momentary excitement followed by tears and fighting. Every birthday party we've gone to in the past 8 years, my kids came home with little favor bags that contain cheap toys that I end up stepping on in our house. More often than not, the toys break before we even get home. The boys are fighting because they wanted something in another bag. And, I'm having to yell at them in the car to not eat anymore candy since they just had a huge piece of cake.
I despised these bags.
So, the rebel in me refused to let my kids give them out at their birthday parties. Nope, we are not going to do it. We will not succumb to the pressure! When did birthdays become SO focused on everyone getting something? Especially in these affluent neighborhoods where kids already have rooms bigger than the apartment I grew up in full of toys! It was mind boggling.
So, nope…we are NOT giving out favor bags.
Here's the thing. I also ask my children each year to choose a charity to hold a donation drive for as part of their birthday. Instead of asking for presents, we ask their friends to bring something for a local charity and for kids or families in need. My kids usually take some convincing to understand this. But, because we do want them to feel celebrated and acknowledged (and happy!), we make it clear that they do get presents from their family.
So, not giving out favor bags to their friends feels like pouring salt in a wound.
Last year was a struggle. I heard kids asking my sons where the favor bags were and some asked me directly too. While I felt like it was a good lesson for my kids, it was hard to watch them being singled out by their friends AT their birthday party. And, the other kids weren't learning any lessons from it anyway.
You see where this is going. This year I gave in.
I have to say, the experience of doing favor bags completely changed my tune. My kids were able to show gratitude to their friends for spending time with them, thanked them each for their donation to the birthday drive, and really think about what their friends would like to get.
In other words, these favor bags ended up being a practice in kindness, gratitude, and dare I say it…empathy.
Here are five ways to turn favor bags into a meaningful kindness activity:
Discuss with your child why we do favor bags: We do favor bags to show our gratitude for our friends that came to celebrate our birthday with us and to thank them for bringing a donation to help others. It's a way to show kindness when they have shown kindness to us.
Have your children pick out what they want to go into the favor bags. We gave out 3 small toys plus two pieces of candy. A quick trip to Party City was all that was needed.
Create an assembly line at home and have your children put the favor bags together. My older son wanted to make sure that his two best friends got their favorite color frisbee in their bags. He also wanted to give them more candy and favors which led to an important discussion about fairness and inclusion.
Have your child put little thank you notes in their bags. I'll be honest, I didn't think of this until afterwards. But, next year, I'll ask my children to make a quick, short thank you note to put into their favor bags. This should be age-appropriate in both length and content (i.e. maybe it's a quick drawing, or just a little card that says "thank you." A friend just shared she has written "thank you for your presence and your presents" - Super cute!
Finally, have your child hand them out at the end of the party. By my kids doing it instead of me, I watched them have immense pleasure in handing each and every one of their friends a little gift. We even had one child that had to leave early, and my son was incredibly upset he didn't get to give him his special favor bag. A quick stop by his house led to an emotional exchange between friends.
The number one lesson is to not do it for your kids.
Involve them along the way. Have them do it and engage them in thinking about why you are doing it.
While I am still not a fan of receiving favor bags at birthday party, I now totally get how it can be an important part of kids connecting with others and showing gratitude and kindness to their friends. This definitely ended up falling into the meaningful experience category that makes this a worthwhile exercise for kids. I guess the other parents will have to deal with the momentary excitement followed by tears and fighting. For now.
Do you do favor bags at your kids birthdays? How do you use birthdays to practice kindness and empathy?