Whatever happened to the halcyon days of youth, when kids were thrilled to receive a simple goody bag of small toys and treats? Instead, at some birthday parties today it seems as if the pint-sized guests are getting a bit jaded with their goody bag expectations, even going so far as to ask for the treats upon arrival at the party—or in a case one mother shared—to hand it back and say, “I don’t want this.”
And parents have complaints of their own. Many get caught up in the competition to provide the fanciest, most popular favors, while others balk at the volume of sweets handed out. Some parents have even suggested banning goody bags altogether.
It all seems quite dramatic since the whole point of handing out a goody bag to your child’s party guests is simply a nice gesture of appreciation for participating in the guest of honor’s celebration. Yet, thanks to us parents and our nice gestures, children are conditioned to receive a goody bag at every party. The result is that when it comes to these little bags of goodies, it’s getting a bit out of hand.
However, the problem isn’t with party favors per se, says Susan Linn, M.D., a Harvard Medical School psychiatry instructor and author of Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood (New Press, $33). “It’s that so many children are so inundated with stuff that presents, including party favors, end up being experienced as a given rather than a treat—and therefore become meaningless.”
Then there’s the competitive nature of some parents. Susan Bartell, Psy.D., a Port Washington-based psychologist and author of The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask (Sourcebooks, $10), says goody bag contests are part and parcel of the culture we live in, where people compete with respect to clothing and club membership. She places the blame on parents’ behavior, not on the act of giving out a party favor. “I understand the stress some parents feel, as they wonder if they’re good enough mothers, while others spend inordinate amounts of money on goody bags, eclipsing actual birthday gifts,” she says. “It’s important to set boundaries and limits at an early age.”
Further, it makes good sense to work within your financial means. “There’s no set rule telling parents how much to spend, as even within Long Island, the reasonable standard can vary,” Dr. Bartell says. “Parents should therefore be sensitive to their community norms. Do something creative, completely different and out of the box that takes you totally out of the competition.”
Dr. Linn advocates shifting the emphasis to the party so that the focus isn’t on the favor itself, but on the birthday child and the party activities. “In addition, parents who are concerned with the issue getting out of hand can get together and speak with the friends in their own social circle, where they might find like-minded peers who may agree to limit goody bags or do away with them completely,” she says.
Another approach to keeping goody bags in perspective is working with your child to plan the favors together. Explain the cost of each item, the cost per bag and the total goody bag cost. Not only is this a good lesson in math, but children as young as four can begin to understand the expense of these parting gifts. Further, children enjoy adding their own ideas. Who knows better than a peer what the other kids are likely to enjoy? And the act of planning the favors and putting the bags together can be another memorable aspect of the party planning for you and your child to share.
There are teachable moments about the bags. Although she notes that goody bags aren’t required, Linda Williams, a certified children’s etiquette consultant from Westbury, sees presenting the goody bag as an opportunity to reinforce good manners essential for proper social development, as it allows the birthday child to be gracious to his guests. Moreover, several parents indicate that their child loves to hand out the bags.
Ultimately, parents do have control over what’s appropriate. Williams suggests parents keep it simple by giving out colored pencils and pretty notepads.
Francine Weinman, a Herricks mother of an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old, says she prefers goody bags that are a little different from the usual. For a cooking party, her son gave away a small rolling pin, a cookie cutter and his own sugar cookie recipe, along with the cookies the children baked at the party. The favor reminded the guests of the party’s theme and the fun they had cooking with her son.
Another idea, according to Stacey Pearl, a Commack mom of two girls, ages 7 and 11, is to give one larger toy item in place of a bag filled with candy and trinkets. It doesn’t have to be more expensive; try a small stuffed animal or craft kit.
So, parents, there’s no need to ban goody bags. Kept in perspective, they’re a nice tradition that remains one of the trappings of childhood that make it more fun. Besides, once they’re around age 12 and birthday parties tend to become small gatherings with a handful of friends, you probably won’t have to worry about them anymore—except for those special occasions like the Bar and Bat Mitzvah or Sweet Sixteen. But that’s another story.
Risa C. Doherty is an attorney, award-winning freelance writer and two-time veteran of the birthday party scene. Read more at www.risadoherty.com
Don’t let your child be the one who is rude to the birthday child and his parents. Discuss the following with your young child to prepare her for a party:1. You’re going to help the birthday child celebrate: it’s hisspecial day.2. You may or may not receive a goody bag. Don’t complain if there are no goody bags.3. Thank the birthday child and his parents for including you and verbally thank them for the goody bag, even if you don’t like it.
— DohertyTry This
1. Don’t distribute the goody bags until the end of the party so that the focus properly remains on the birthday child.2. Don’t overdo it. Fill it with age-appropriate, useful or educational items (not a tie-in to the latest “R” rated movie), and add at least one healthy treat, like raisins or apple crisps. Some parents prefer sugar-free ring pops and lollypops.
3. If you can, shop, collate and decorate the goody bags with your child as part of his extended birthday celebration. This way, the goody bag really comes from him and the bonus is special time for you with your child.
4. Be creative. My daughter’s favorite favors were the color-your-own pillow cases for the sleepover party and the tiny tin personalized pails with baggies of dirt, seeds and small trowels. Some hosts give out seasonal gifts, like a bottle of bubble soap or other backyard item, while others include awareness bracelets like “Livestrong.” You can also have the guests create their own favors. Older guests like band-aids with designs, novelty lip gloss and unique soaps.
5. Look for candy that doubles as toys, such as pinwheels and whistles made of candy or African rainsticks filled with chewing gum.
6. Use your imagination. Order custom fortune cookies online or provide a gift certificate to Carvel or a favorite yogurt place. Use colored or patterned lunch bags, small pails or Chinese food cartons, instead of the flimsy plastic bags.
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