Thursday, March 6, 2008

Present opening Etiquette

Today's post is one of those where I wish I had a gaggle of readers to answer a question for me.

We just returned home from a really nice birthday party. There was approximately 25 children at this party, ranging in ages from 3-10 years old. The activity was fun, then we had pizza and ice cream cake.

When it was time for presents the birthday girl (she is five) was placed in her cousin's lap (maybe the cousin was eight, possibly nine years old) surrounded by all of the gifts and the little guests were also crowded round. Dad stood in the back of the room with the camcorder, Mom stood off to the side to write down who gave the birthday girl what.

As soon as she started ripping through the tissue paper of the first gift we all knew it was going to be chaotic. It really was. Tissue paper was flying everywhere, she could not find the cards, and by the time they found the birthday card from the first present, the little birthday princess was already on to the second gift.

Ripping through the paper like a madwoman!

Mom and Dad sat back and let this whole thing happen (chuckling heartily at her behavior, mind you), while I sat there watching in horror. I am still wondering if I am the only one who thought that could have been handled at least a little better. Don't get me wrong, it is not like 20 little girls were prancing on top of the gifts, really it wasn't.

When I get a gift for a child I always want it to be the best, or most favored gift for the money. Usually we spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 on the gift. Todays gift was no exception. I took Riss to Target with me and together we walked down each aisle of the toy section, searching for something that we thought the birthday girl would just love. We spent nearly an hour scanning the shelves for the perfect gift. At the party the birthday girl ripped it out of the bag and barely gave it a second look before moving on to the next gift.

I felt a little disrespected. We had to sit there and watch her rip through her presents, and for what? She did not even look at my kids to say thank you. She barely even looked at the gift.

Is this common?

Is my itchy body turning me into a moody bitch?

Has anyone else experienced this?

Do you let your kids go ape-shit on their presents (keep in mind she is five)?

Do you guide your children through the opening process at this age still?

Am I wrong to think that if you were not going to make your kid tell my kid thank you that maybe you should have waited till after the party to even let her open the gifts?

Am I overreacting?


Misguided Mommy said...

last year we had the opposite problem. brandon would open something and say BWOW (wow) a twucccccccck then wander off to play with his truck. we would have to bring him back and say no look there is more to open. I think it is really hard on birthdays because kids get overwhelmed so easily. at christmas one of the best things i've seen is letting kids open a few presnets every day for about a week so they dont get desensitized. however i really think the parents should have stepped in and said, if you cant stop and say thank you and be respectful you woont get to open the rest of the gifts.

another thing that REALLY bothers me is other kids opening kids presents. last year when brandon turned two my friends 7 year old was there trying to open brandons presents. his mom finally had to pull him aside and tell him to leave the presents alone, however her method in doing that was to say, "you dont want to play with his toys they are cheap toys, your toys are much more expensive and better" so yeah, then i was even more annoyed because obviously a two year olds toys are much cheaper then a 7 year olds asshole

yeah tangent there huh

MommyTime said...

Something like this happened at my son's party, much to my dismay. He was turning 4. There were 6 friends he'd invited at the party. We'd made a big rocket ship for the kids to play in, and they all sat in it for the present opening. One present in, all the kids wanted to help, there was chaos, paper flying everywhere. We are close friends with several of the families there, however, so most of the parents were giggling. We did make sure, once the opening frenzy was over to read aloud to everyone one of the books one boy had brought, to figure out amongst ourselves who had given what, and to have my son say "thank you for coming to my party, and thank you for the _____" to each guest as he was leaving. We also made thank you cards with a picture of the rocket ship on the front, and a note dictated by my son inside making specific reference to how he was enjoying the particular present.

It wasn't my dream for how presents would be opened, but honestly, it would not have been stoppable either once it got started. In retrospect, I should have kept all the presents back and handed them over one at a time. But never having had a friends-invited party for him before, I didn't know that. Not having taken that precaution, I did all I could to ensure that everyone's gifts got properly acknowledged. I'm not sure how that would have gone with twice as many guests though.

I guess I'm trying to say: (a) I sympathize with your feeling not properly acknowledged; and (b) I do understand how the situation might have gotten out of control before the parents could manage it. I don't know what the perfect solution is. I hope they at least sent out thank you notes(?) For what it's worth...

PS I found you through Lotus, and stopped by because the title of this post struck such a cord...

Jozet at Halushki said...

Here's my practice:

For children ages about 3 or under, we sometimes don't open gifts in front of the guests. At that age, it's hard to 1) maintain focus for and extended period of time for the gift givers and the receivers and 2) there are still some guests for whom watching all those nifty toys be opened is a bit too much of an exercise in graciousness. At about 3 and under, this is still a very normal developmental stage (I think) and sitting through 10+ gifts being opened is going to end in frustration; I like to have lessons in etiquette and patience at this age be a bit shorter and end on a successful note. That's sort of hit or miss if you're asking a bunch of really young kids to sit through a gift unwrapping session.

That said, if we are the party-givers for a young child, I will still write out specific and ebullient thank you notes for the gift givers, maybe even including a small photo of my child opening the gift.

For children about 4 and older, yes, we open gifts s-l-o-w-l-y and one at a time. We have a few practice sessions on how to open a gift, how to comment with grace and thanks even if it's not the bestest gift in the world, and during the gift opening, we have the gift giver stand with the party girl/boy and we take a Polaroid of the two together for the gift giver to take home.

If there are a lot of kids - 10+ - we might split the gift giving into two sessions. By gift number 10, it's hard to keep kids focused. I think that there is a general rule of thumb for how often to switch activities for younger children. I think 15 minutes is way long enough for any one activity.

You could break up the chaos and gift carnage by making it some sort of game. Ask a trivia question in line with the party theme in between each gift. Have kids tell a joke every few gifts. Maybe a big piece of paper on the wall, and after each child's gift is unwrapped, they can sign their name and place a sticker. You might not need this for older kids, but sometimes I do it anyway.

Don't get me wrong, I definitely think that older children should be able to sit and watch gift opening without getting nuts in either good or bad ways, but it is a party - I like to pack in a lot of fun. :-)

And kids really do like seeing their gift being opened, especially if they've put some thought into the purchasing.

If kids just love to rip paper, maybe after the gift is opened, give the gift giver the paper to rip a piece of and place on a big poster board collage. I don't know...just brainstorming.

Of course, yes, I also agree that every party vibe is different and it's hard to judge what's going to work or not with a certain crowd. If the chaos starts and the kids are just diving in and the craziness is more important that the gifts - for the kids - then I might also just sit back and go with it. Otherwise, it would be like trying to herd cats, lol.

However, at some point my party girl/boy must give a thank you. Card, verbal, something. And it has to be specific and glowing.

Otherwise next party, no gifts and/or way fewer party guests. I'm a hardass that way.

Carrie Martin said...

I totally understand I would be a little upset. I always spend time wrapping my presents and putting nice ribbon on the gift. My family has always done a pretty good job at opening one gift at a time. The trick is that you need both parents or two people to help.


Mrs. F said...

Misguided~ I agree with you about kids opening other kids gifts. My kids have done it before, and I have to run up and tell them not to do it and remove them from the area, it sometimes make the birthday parent feel crazy and overwhelmed, at least I know that is how I felt when it happened to us last year...

mommyTime~ Thanks for your input from the other side. Seriously, I appreciate it. I probably would not have minded so much if this was a gathering with close friends (like yours was), but this was a party with almost the entire preschool class present...

Jozet~ I love your idea for practice sessions and I may implement that with my children. Thank you for your thoughts.

Carrie~ I <3 you. Thanks for stopping by. Also, two parents to help would have been better than zero. :) Did I mention I love you. You are my first IRL friend to leave a comment on here.

Carrie Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.