Gift-giving carries emotional, social, and moral lessons for both the giver and the receiver.
A birthday present is a buffer for the vulnerability you feel when forced to admit another year
We had the first birthday party in my son’s class this year, and as was customary, we sent out invitations without mentioning any gifts.
When the day came, we slyly instructed our guests to place their gifts in the corner of the living room, unaware of the mistake we had made.
It wasn’t until he received three or four invitations to his classmates’ parties in a row that they all included the bold order not to bring any gifts.
A deliberate rejection of local customs can be heartening. But blindly exiting the status quo tends to lead to anxiety. I didn’t regret asking for the present. More specifically, I don’t regret not asking for a present.
Years went by, and out of about 15 birthday party invitations we received, only two didn’t include a “no gifts” order. Clearly, my instinct to allow presents to be handed out at a child’s birthday party made me an outsider. I started questioning my instincts.
The no-presents birthday party trend started about ten years ago and has continued to spread from coast to coast among well-meaning parents ever since. Are all these people right? Are birthday gifts a mere surrender to a materialistic, consumerist society and soon to be a vestige of 20th-century excess? It is not what you have.
Before I explain why, it’s important to remember that, like most parenting issues, there’s no one right answer. Unlike vaccinations (get vaccinated), avoiding birthday gifts is a matter of personal discretion. It defends presents and explores the emotional, social, and moral lessons that presents offer to both givers and receivers.
The gift-giving process can be soulless. The parent hastily ordered something plastic online two days before her party. The giving child doesn’t know what it is, and the receiving child plays with it for a total of seven minutes before throwing it in the toy box and forgetting it forever.
But the gift itself is not responsible. What is wrong is the process by which gifts are obtained, given and received.
Here’s another scenario: I recently took my 5-year-old son to a toy store to pick something for a classmate’s birthday party (it’s her one of two that’s not forbidden). After a few minutes, he couldn’t help but think about himself, but shifted to contemplating who his friend was and what he wanted.
After deciding that there were no werewolf-themed merchandise, he moved on to the broader category of “scary” or “mysterious” toys. With a little encouragement from me, we settled on the board game Crew Junior. I’m sure he left the toy store feeling really good about his choice.
Lara Akunin, an assistant professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University who studies generosity in children, says: She explained that it is important to give young children a chance to behave generously.
Choosing Crew Jr. as a friend was a valuable lesson in generosity for my son. He says that his ID is “Me! Myself! Myself! My! My! My!” This isn’t a huge sacrifice in the cosmic sense, but it’s a pretty big one for kindergarteners.
According to Aknin, giving is most likely to make the giver happier if three conditions are met: If there is an element of social connection between the giver and the recipient, if the giver has some understanding of the impact of the gift on the recipient, and if: When choosing a gift, the giver feels a certain degree of autonomy. The more involved a child is in the decision-making behind the gift, the more likely they will experience a “warm glow” from delivering it.
Aknin said researchers have tested these conditions only in adults, but she suspects they are in children as well.
Of course, birthday gifts aren’t the only things that can foster generosity in a child, but they are priceless. Birthday fully understands the importance of giving children (who are often not good at abstract thinking) the opportunity to meet all three of her conditions.
“Generosity helps us connect our social lives and function as a larger collective,” said Akunin. “Giving gifts and helping others more broadly helps us navigate and smooth our social world.”
Researchers studying generosity and giving have found evidence of its importance in a variety of cultural and socioeconomic settings. I am researching the role of birthday parties in the home. She explained that these parties, which included gifts, were financial sacrifices that families were willing to make. or ask for
As in other communities, Cutlas said the act of gift-giving among low-income families is an important ritual that “helps children learn the importance of thinking about the well-being of others.” It’s not the gift itself that matters, it’s the giving that really matters.
“By focusing on the act of giving, we teach children that gifts don’t have to be extravagant and expensive,” Cutlas said. “Gifts can take many forms, including tangible gifts, gifts of time, and gifts of service. Something that honors the person being celebrated.”
We love to project an aura of unbridled joy around our birthdays, but it’s actually a little darker. Even children, who tend to be less conscious of death than adults, have a keen understanding of the irreversibility of time and experience it acutely around their birthdays.
Plus, like birthdays, milestones that are supposed to be happy have a way of highlighting the unmeasurable parts of our lives. But many of us can’t stop our minds from drifting towards what isn’t.
Historically, birthday presents were given to appease spirits, for better or for worse. Although most of us have moved to monotheism or atheism, gift-giving rituals still serve a similar function. It’s a buffer against the magnitude of one day of vulnerability, another year gone by.
So instead of banning gifts, we can make them better.
Kelly Vockel, owner of Cherry on Top Partys, a children’s party planning company in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the San Francisco Bay Area, says parents should think about using gifts to encourage gratitude in their children. said. She warns her parents about allowing children to open gifts in front of guests who tend to tear things up without much attention.
“Put them in the back room and then do it in a slow, supervised way, encouraging the child to be graceful,” said Bockel. I believe you should participate in
For those who are afraid of cluttering their presents, Vockell has two suggestions. Parents of the birthday boy or girl can encourage toy cleansing before the party. You should consider giving experiences over items.
For example, my son loves “movie night” presents when he’s invited to go to the theater or watch Netflix at a friend’s house surrounded by drugstore candy and microwave popcorn. Among the fans of this gift idea are my husband and I who are thrilled with free babysitting nights.
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Bockel is wary of the urge to incorporate adult-led minimalism into all aspects of children’s lives, especially birthday celebrations. Bans on party favors are often included as well.
“Birthday parties are an opportunity to celebrate magical, fleeting moments in a child’s life and create some of the most cherished childhood memories. The anticipation of treats and presents is part of it,” she said. “It’s kind of disappointing for parents to impose their ideas on their children in this way.”
Given the vastly increased anxiety among children today, we parents should look for opportunities to provide our children with fun for the sake of fun. , is not just a thing. It’s a gateway to a sense of community and joy, an unmitigated joy that becomes harder and harder to find as we grow.