The Case Against Party Favors


0-4I’m a party pooper. There’s no better way to define my general bad attitude about birthday parties, many of which I find too fussy, too commercial, and too expensive. More often than not the child in the center of the celebration is either bored or overwhelmed. Sometimes both. And these observations arise from the parties I’ve hosted for my own children, not only the ones we’ve attended as guests.

Each year I’ve scaled our parties back considerably. I’ve experimented with parties at home, parties with no gifts at all, and parties where I suggested a nonprofit organization to which parents could contribute in lieu of gifts. However, as the “in lieu of gifts” maneuver is gaining popularity, I’m finding the idea increasingly preachy and presumptuous and maybe even self-righteous. So now I’m back to letting the kids get gifts. After all, allowing a child one day to get spoiled is not the worst thing—that is, unless the parent has confused that child’s birthday guest list with her wedding day. In which case, yes, gifts are a problem.

The good news is that the gift issue no longer bothers me now that we’ve stopped—brace yourselves—inviting the entire class to our kids’ parties. We’re down to a handful of friends and it’s so much more manageable and dare I say, enjoyable, for everyone. Nevertheless, there’s one party tradition I can’t seem to squash and it’s the one that bothers me most of all because it makes the least sense. Party favors.

Why in the name of all that’s sensible are we parents perpetuating this worthless tradition of handing out junk at the end of a party? A party that we’ve already graciously hosted no less. When did the party itself not become favor enough?

I can understand the purpose of party favors in certain situations. At a wedding, for example, when many guests have travelled far and incurred expenses to do so, then perhaps a pretty little bag of mints at each place setting adds a touch of gratitude on behalf of the bride and groom.

But if I’ve spent money to take my son and some of his friends to our local indoor trampoline park of terrors where they were happily entertained for an hour and a half then fed pizza and cake, why must those kids also leave with a present? Isn’t it my son’s birthday we’re celebrating? Wasn’t the party something of an experiential “gift” to the guests?

But party favors teach kids to think about others, you might say.

See, I doubt that. I think we’re teaching kids—the guests—to forget about the reason they’re at these parties in the first place, which is to celebrate someone else. It reminds me of the idea that everyone on a team needs to receive a trophy instead of celebrating a few players who made big strides that year. It’s as if we can’t let one person feel good unless everyone feels good.

One of my daughters has a bad habit of discussing the goodie bag she hopes to receive the second she opens an invitation. “How about we think about a creative gift for your friend?” I’ll suggest. Somehow I’ve failed to impart on her that these parties are about celebrating other people and when it’s her birthday, we’ll celebrate her. This is ultimately why I came around on the birthday gift issue. I like the idea of giving each child (not just mine, but everyone’s) an opportunity to celebrate his or her one special day. Why do all the children need to receive a token gift at all the parties? And my issue is not simply that most party favors are plastic bags full of junk. My kids have also returned from parties with some seriously overpriced parting gifts, but that’s more of a “keeping up with the Jones” issue.

Let me illustrate my point with the worst call I’ve ever made vis-a-vis birthday parties. Once upon a time (two years ago), before I saw the light on small parties, I let my daughter and her friend persuade me to host their joint-birthday party at Build-a-Bear. Since we were splitting the party with another family, I did not think it was the worst idea ever. As it turns out, it was the worst idea ever for numerous logistical and economical reasons. But the lowest point occurred when a few of the kids asked for their party favors before they would leave the store with their parents. These kids could not see that the bears were the party favor.

Kids are accustomed to doing an entertaining project of some kind at a party or being treated to a few hours of fun and still leaving with something else. They are used to taking the focus off of the child whose birthday they’re celebrating and thinking about what they’re getting in return.

I don’t like it—any of it. And although I know there are other parents who cannot stand the junk that comes home from these parties, I suppose I’ll have to be the first in my circles who will finally let the party end with “thanks for coming” and a friendly wave goodbye. The revolution has to start somewhere.

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This entry was written by Nina Badzin

About the author: Nina Badzin is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. She has written about parenting, marriage, friendship and more in The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, Kveller, and elsewhere. You can read more of her work at  and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (

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  • Daiva

    Amen to that!! Couldn’t agree more. So glad to find this article and learn that I’m not the only party pooper, if that’s what we are… I grew up in Europe and this was never done there, only after I came to US I learned about this very poor kids birthday tradition. I think it sends all the wrong messages to kids and really doesn’t teach them anything valuable.

    • Jay

      That’s a failure of parents not traditions.

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  • megan

    I totally agree! I despise goody bags. My solution: hand out bags of home-made cookies. Who doesn’t like a cookie? And my daughter loves that we make them together. I’m already planning the snowflake sugar cookies for her Frozen themed birthday party.

  • Christie

    I don’t think anybody really appreciates cheaply made, mass-produced party favors that are handed out without a thought given to the child receiving them (or the parent who will have to deal with the broken item moments later or the landfill it will eventually end up in). But I love well-thought out party favors and have immensely enjoyed figuring out what to give to the kids that attend my son’s parties.

    If you don’t like them, don’t continue to hand them out. If you take that first step, others will follow. Before you know it, party favors will become the thing you rarely see instead of the things most of us dread.

  • Anna

    My son is only two but it didn’t even occur to me to do party bags, although every other kids party I have been to this year has done. Parents also give them out to the whole class at nursery. My two complaints about them are that they are usually completely full of sweets, so I go through them before giving them to my son. I also don’t like it when they are really gender specific. There are loads of really cool, non-gendered toys – why do all the boys have to have cars and the girls bracelets?


    I think what it originally started off as was taking home a doggy bag of all the left over party food that would spoil anyway if it wasnt eaten up quickly. Now it seems to have morphed into something hideous! I confess i gave out party bags for the first birthday my daughter just had- i wasnt going to, it hadnt even crossed my mind, but then after getting them at other parties we attended beforehand i felt i had to to repay the favour! This is how it starts i suppose. Maybe next time i will be strong and not do them!

  • Marcelle

    The first year I bought stuff for favors and then forgot them. Did it the second year too. Now I just don’t bother. I am probably a lazy party host, but it seems so unnecessary! I hate all the candy. The stuff I intended to be favors (seed packets and sidewalk chalk) I got to use with my son, which was way more fun.

  • Ellen

    I find myself feeling two ways about this. I totally agree that goody bags aren’t necessary, and I hate when my kids come home with plastic junk from WalMart, or worse, a bag full of candy (after a party filled with cake, ice cream, candy, etc.). But I also *love* giving gifts, and I’ve always used my kids’ birthday parties as an opportunity to show my kids that they can and should express their gratitude to their friends for coming. Yes, of course, the party is your expression of gratitude, but there’s something about that final little bag being handed over that feels so lovely — especially because my kids can’t wait to give their friends a present. I like that my kids learn that even on their birthday, it’s not just about them. We usually try to create a bag of mostly handmade items (well, at least we did, back in the days when I had that kind of time) — tie-dyed socks, crayons melted and shaped like hearts, CDs onto which we copied favorite songs or a book on tape, lavender sachets, etc. Friends told us they were the best goody bags ever — and it was great for my kids to see that kind of appreciation for handmade items. It also took the whole commercial birthday party thing and made it about something else — creating handmade gifts for friends. Now that we don’t have that kind of time, we’ve found fun things — like special rocks, or fossils (the local toy store was selling trilobytes — not high quality ones, of course) for 25 cents.

  • Justyna

    You can’t imagine the backlash I got when I wrote “please no presents” on my daughter’s birthday party invitations. Parents accused me of ruining her special day. I didn’t know what to say without sounding preachy but the truth is, my daughter lives a very happy life. She wants for nothing. The last thing my child needs is more stuff. She doesn’t yet understand that something plastic will rot on a landfill for thousands of years, or that under-aged workers are putting their lives at risk in foreign lands so we can have all of this plastic shit for 5 minutes before throwing it away…..she doesn’t get that yet.
    I’m working on it and it doesn’t make me very popular with other moms because I sometimes come across as preachy. I try not to discuss my thoughts with others because people get really insulted. I try to focus on the positives, like isn’t it great that we can all get together and have a good time without stuff….but sill….it gets awkward.
    Anyone else run into this issue? Any advice?

    • starbucksgirl

      Justyna, I agree about the gifts issue but for different reasons. Still, it is going against the tide and that sometimes does make others uncomfortable. No matter though. You have to (graciously) do what is best for your children. You don’t need to explain your reasons. I just politely ask my friends not to bring gifts and then hope that they will just understand. I don’t worry about their responses. They are not accountable for my children. I am.

    • starbucksgirl

      I think the most important thing to do when asking others to do something that goes “against the tide” is to do it humbly and with graciousness. You will not come across as preachy if you ask kindly along with keeping judgement for their choices away from your heart.

  • Steve

    Amen. Preach it, sister. I wrote about the same topic (though, not nearly as eloquently) in my own blog two years ago. This madness must stop.

  • andy

    So frustrating. Party favors don’t have to be junk it’s what you invest in them. You could easily send them home with a fun pic of the party or a craft they did at the party. And honestly you may have thrown it but as you said your child got something in return called a gift or a donation to a non profit whatever the case. So you received a return on your investment or better yet your child did. The problem is you choose to spend the money on the party and it sounds like you feel like you need to be rewarded. And that just isn’t the case.

  • Carley Moore

    Thanks for this! I wish I would have read it yesterday before I wimped out at Party City and bought a bunch of crap for my daughter’s birthday party which is tomorrow. I don’t think I’m strong enough yet (the pressure around birthday parties is so intense!), but I’d like to get there. I’m trying to tone down the whole party event thing by just having one in our playground instead of say, renting The Intrepid (one of my daughter’s classmates’ parents did that!). But I also appreciate your honesty about just not liking birthday parties. I feel like such a grouch, but I find them stressful and overwhelming for everyone involved. Fun too, I guess, but I wish they had less pressure around them.

    • Nina Badzin

      There is hope @carley_moore:disqus! This past year (it’s been about a year since I wrote this) each of my four kids had VERY small parties with no favors. And the parties were great, fun, low-key, and it all worked out well. There is hope!