General Etiquette > Family and Children

Opening presents at birthday parties

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I've been to two parties for kids in the past few months, and I noticed that at both parties, one of the attendees was super excited for the present given to the birthday child.  And they just couldn't wait to open the present, and once the present was open, the guest child ripped the packaging open so they could play with the present.  Is this normal?

I was really put-off by this, because in both cases, the present was toy with a zillion little pieces, and after 3 seconds of ripping the packaging open, the little pieces were ALL OVER THE PLACE.  If I was the mom in any of these cases, I would have been really upset about this. 

I tend to only set out some of the toys for my son (he is 2.5 years old now), because first of all, he has his favorites and spends most of his time playing with those.  If there are too many things out all the time, he will play with something for 3 minutes, scattering everything everywhere, and then go back to play with his current favorite.  And then I step on something, and have to muffle my curses, and generally feel grumpy about the toys everywhere.

Anyway, if I was the mom at these parties, I would have let them open the presents, but then set them out of the way.  I wouldn't have let the kids play with the new presents at the party.  Is this unreasonable?

We had a party for my son when he turned 2, but it wasn't at home, it was a children's play place, and we didn't have time to open the presents at the party.  I remember though, one of the girls we invited did ask a lot about opening the presents, but as I said, we were busy with food and cake, and actually playing on slides and things like that, so we didn't have time.  I wonder how something like that should be handled when we have a party at home?

What do other people do?

I think in my family we usually don't open everything - especially if it has a ton of small pieces and there are a lot of people milling around.  That being said, is it possible there is something that the parent(s) at this party knew about this guest that you were not privy too?

I was a host at a shower once where one of the guests was physically an adult but was actually developmentally delayed.  We had enough prizes that eventually everybody would get one but I could see she was getting agitated and restless just a little while in so I rigged it so she could get hers early on and open it.  I wouldn't do that at most showers or for most guests but in some cases, you adjust.

It's very possible there's something about the kids I don't know.  In the first case, it was the birthday boy's older cousin (birthday boy was turning 6, cousin is 8-ish).  And the cousin just RIPPED into the present she gave her cousin, which was a lego set.  Both the moms were not supervising this, the birthday boy's mom was supervising the cake in a different room.  The cousin's mom was also in that room.  I feel like if there is something about the cousin then she needs to be supervised more closely!  (But, and maybe I'm being judgemental, but the cousin's mom didn't appear to supervise any of her children, and I was a little horrified by all the things they did.)

The birthday boy's dad was in the same room with the rest of us, and he didn't say anything until he stepped on one of the legos, and then he yelled at the birthday boy to clean up his toys.  I felt just awful for him, first of all, because the lego set was now probably missing several pieces, and second because he got yelled at for something his cousin did.

Anyway, since I noticed the ripping into presents at another party we were just at, I was wondering if it was commonplace to actually play with the new toys while still at the party.  I don't think this is something I'm planning to let happen (hopefully) at my son's parties.

At the kids' parties I've been to, I do see some of the new toys getting played with, but it's usually not the ones with tons of little pieces, like Legos. Maybe a new toy truck or something else that's basically just one, big thing. I get the impression the reason is because, like you suggest, they don't want the little pieces getting lost in the chaos of all the kids; or if it's an electronic gadget that will take some time and patience to figure out, they don't want any of the kids trying to do that during the party, and maybe breaking it or something. I think there's definitely an element of the parents not wanting the birthday kid to neglect their guests/other gifts because one particular gift is so cool, they want to play with it right away.

But the parents do have to watch the kids closely, so they can swoop in and grab the thing they don't want opened, and put it away out of sight if it's too tempting. It can take a while for kids to learn that the present they're giving doesn't belong to them, nor do they have an automatic right to play with it (some kids take longer than others if they aren't being taught well). At my cousin's kid's party a couple years ago, one of her little friends was repeatedly removed by her parents because she kept trying to "help" open the gifts, when she should have known better.

The successful parties I've seen, though they may appear to be quite chaotic, actually have a strong element of control--you get the sense the parents have agreed beforehand what they're going to do with the presents and they act swiftly and decisively, and redirect the kids to something fun so they don't get whiny.

I think at least one of the parents (of birthday child and/or guests) needs to supervise gift opening. Guests should be kept from opening the birthday child's gifts, and gifts with many small pieces should not be opened until later when most/all of the guests have gone. Also, Lego sets should always be opened with a large bowl or tray alongside so none of the pieces get lost or become dangerous underfoot!


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