Are Gift Requests Polite?

To most kids, a birthday party means presents. To parents, more often than not, that means presents that their kids don’t necessarily need, or want.

But judging from an informal sampling, Delaware Valley parents are a polite group, reluctant to ask for specific types of birthday presents or post to birthday gift registries that have sprung up online.

“I have a closet full of gifts my girls have gotten for their birthdays, mostly crafts,” says Cherry Hill, NJ mom Mary Jo Reiss. “I like crafts, but there are only so many you can do.” Reiss is quick to add that she wants her daughters to be grateful, no matter the present. “The giver took the time and money to purchase a present and it would be rude not to be grateful,” she says. “I remind them of this before any gift-giving holiday because I would honestly be embarrassed if they were ungrateful.”

“I do appreciate any gifts given to my children,” says Newark, DE mom Jamie Holmes. “With that being said, I do have some guests who give a present just to give a present. These presents are unfortunately sort of wasted because the kids do not play with them, and they end up cluttering our home and taking up space until we end up finding a new home somewhere else for that item.”

So what’s a parent to do? There’s the “charity donation in lieu of gift” option. Pottstown, PA mom Tammy Budd asks the folks who show up for sons Trevor’s and Aiden’s parties to bring a can for the local food pantry.

Another option is to go the “no gift” route — adding a little disclaimer to the invitation. Cyndi Wence of Sewell, NJ says she’s tried that to cut down on the materialistic feel to a kid’s birthday celebration. “But people always bring something anyway,” she says.

It turns out people like sending presents, and moms who’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty awful gifts say they want to make good gift-giving choices.

Registry Options

So why not offer a list of welcome presents? Registries have simplified gift-buying for weddings and baby showers for decades. Thanks to the Internet, these days, parents aren’t even limited to a one-store-fits-all registry.

The free website KidsReg allows parents to set up separate lists for each of their children and input data about an event, such as a party, associated with the list. Wish lists on the site can include an item name and description, preferred colors or sizes and stores where it is available.

KidsReg even offers parents a list of ideas based on their child’s age. Lists can be shared via e-mail or by jotting down the child’s registry number in an invitation, keeping a child’s information safe from wanderers on the Web.

Another free online service,, allows parents to create a private shopping list and a public wish list. For families with children old enough to have access to the site, an option keeps gift recommendations a surprise up until the day of the party so kids won’t know what has been bought or who has been checking their list.

Family bloggers may link their personal sites to the list or add a photo of their child to make it more personal. Parents can limit access to invited guests or make the wish list private so Web surfers can’t accidentally stumble on their child’s info.

Parents can list “wants” from any store. If the store has a website, the list will link buyers to the webpage where they can make a purchase. also allows the birthday boy or girl to rate items on a scale of 1 to 5, from “must have” to “don’t buy this for me.”

For parents who want to stick with one store to simplify the process, chains such as Target and Toys R Us now offer a wish list that parents can e-mail to friends and family.

The Etiquette of Asking

Of course, all that convenience comes with a price. Etiquette expert Mary Mitchell, who once wrote a kids’ manners column for the Philadelphia Inquirer called Ask Ms. Demeanor, says she feels “Jurassic” in saying it, but she’s not a fan of registries for kids.

“To hear a 5-year-old say ‘I’m registered,’ is just not right,” she says with a sigh. In the corporate world, Mitchell watches people flounder because they’ve been raised to expect everything but never say a simple “thank you.”

That said, Mitchell encourages parents to provide ideas on what to buy — if asked. She says it’s even acceptable to throw together a wish list, enabling your child to give close family members a few ideas to go on when they hit the stores.

Mitchell says the most important “gift” given to your kids is the ability to be gracious. Hand-written thank you notes are a must, even if your child is dictating, and you’re writing them out.

Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer.


Categories: Party Features