Ask Amy: What to do about gifts on birthdays when kids already have too many toys

Dear Readers: Every year I step away from my column briefly to work on other creative projects. (Anyone interested in my personal essays and photographs can subscribe to my free newsletter:

I’ll be back next week. Today’s “Best of” topic from 10 years ago is: “Present Tense.”

Dear Amy: My oldest son will be turning 5 next month. We are planning a party at a local park with simple games and food. My problem is, I don’t want guests to bring presents. He has lots of toys, and I feel our house is overrun! However, I don’t want him to be hurt with the expectation of opening presents. Please help!

– Present Tense

Dear Present Tense: At your son’s age, giving and receiving gifts is important, not because of the stuff you get, but because of the social exchange — that of generosity and gratitude — that children demonstrate as they celebrate birthdays.

One way to balance the number of toys your son has is to ask him to choose one older toy to put in a basket for each new toy he receives.

You will then recycle these “basket toys” (eventually) by giving them to another family member, donating them to a local charity or shelter, or by having a yard sale. – June 2012

Dear Amy: I agree with you that gift exchanges are important for young children. A friend of mine handled this by asking all of her little guests to bring food, a toy, etc., for a dog – and they donated all of these gifts to their local shelter. It was a lot of fun, and the kids enjoyed it too.

– Faithful Reader

Dear Faithful: This is a great idea. – July 2012

Dear Amy: We dealt with this issue in our household by asking guests to bring a favorite book. The birthday boy opened them at the party, thanked the guests, read them and then we donated them to our local book drive.

– Worked For Us

Dear Worked: I love the idea of a book party. Thank you. – September 2012

Dear Amy: My daughter is turning five next month, and she has asked for a big party with her friends.

We’re concerned about gifts. Specifically, we’re worried about people giving Barbies or worse, those Bratz or Monster High dolls.

We don’t have Barbies in the house for all the usual reasons, and the Bratz/ Monster High dolls are simply disturbing.

At a recent party for one of her friends (also turning five), almost every gift was a Barbie, Bratz or some other “fashion” doll.

What? Girls don’t like books, nature, space, coloring, crafts, puzzles?

Is there any way to let people know that we don’t want “fashion” dolls in the house?

We could say no gifts at all, but around here, people bring gifts anyway. If we do nothing, most of her gifts will be Barbies – or worse. We won’t allow her to keep them, and that’s not a great outcome either. So, our choices seem to be either 1) cancel the party or 2) be “inappropriate” and include a small note on the invitation saying, “No fashion dolls, please.”

What do you think we should do?

– Concerned Parents

Dear Concerned: You could try to control the gifts coming into your house by having a “theme” party, asking parents to help their youngsters give an “outer space” related book or toy, or to bring something related to bugs, horses, or NASCAR. However, ultimately you cannot control other parents (or kids). And so you must do the challenging work of educating your daughter about the messages conveyed through these fashion dolls and about your own values regarding them. – October 2012

Dear Amy: I grew up playing with these dolls and am now an avid reader, expect to graduate near the top of my class, and have a very healthy self-image.

– Better Than Barbie

Dear Better: Thank you for pointing out that these dolls might not be as “dangerous” as this mother thinks.

Dear Amy: When I was growing up, I loved my Barbies. I lined them up and we played school. I taught them what I learned in class. I helped them solve little-girl problems. For a child there is much more to a Barbie than the way she looks.

This mom should relax and allow her child’s imagination to take over.

– Barbie Fan.

Dear Fan: I agree. In my experience as a parent, the worst thing about Barbies was trying to get their shoes to stay on those tiny pointy feet.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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