Gift Registry for Children’s Birthdays?


I love hearing from all of you. Thank you for sharing what you have experienced or seen in the manner world. There is always plenty of fodder for etiquette blogging.

As kids grow older, there are fewer birthday parties, so I was shocked when a reader e-mailed me with news from the five-year-old-birthday party invitation scene.

Susan has a five year old daughter who was recently invited to three birthday parties for friends turning five. Two of the invitations arrived on the same day. Both of those invitations stated “Gift Cards Preferred.” The third invite stated “Molly is registered at Target.”


Susan stated she was shocked and asked me if she should be, or if it was OK to indicate these preferences. Susan, please be shocked.

It IS appropriate to indicate where a couple or mom-to-be is registered for weddings and baby showers. There are many items required to set up a new home or baby nursery. Tradition has dictated that gift registry for these events is acceptable, as it assists in purchasing meaningful items for this massive undertaking. It is not proper etiquette to register a five-year old for her birthday. Please…the child is turning five!

Nor does it show good manners to suggest on an invitation that the five-year old prefers gift cards. You should never write on an invitation what gifts you would like to receive. Part of the joy of gift giving is choosing a heart-felt present and then watching the recipient’s happiness as they open it. As always, it is the thought that counts.

If you are asked what you would like for your birthday, it is perfectly fine to make reasonable, general suggestions. (Unlike unreasonable suggestions such as world peace and a million dollars.) You could say, “I love to read, especially non-fiction. I’m sure that whatever you select I will enjoy.”  Or  “Oh – anything for the garden or pool would be wonderful. You always give me such thoughtful gifts ” You are being asked because the gift-giver desires to select a gift that you want and like. Make sure your request in within a person’s means and doesn’t send them on a wild goose chase. They will find your suggestion helpful and will feel good about their purchase if they know it is something you wanted.

A brief word about gift cards. In today’s world, gift cards are no longer widely considered the easy, non-personal way out like as they once were. You can purchase a gift card to anywhere and anything! People feel that by purchasing a gift card to a favorite store or restaurant, the birthday boy or girl gets to select exactly what he or she wants. There are pros and cons for giving gift cards. If asked what your son or daughter would like for their birthday, you can state that they are saving for a new X-Box game (which would be too costly for a friend to purchase as a gift), so a gift card to Target or Game Stop would be appreciated. I would also suggest having a tangible item to suggest as well, in case the person prefers not to give gift cards.

From Toddler and Tiaras to misguided parents of five-year olds, please help keep the innocence and purity in birthday party invitations.

Mind Your Manners,


  1. We live near a small speciality toy store, learning express. They have a program called, ‘the birthday bucket’. The child selects a few items 4 the bucket & they store holds the toys in a bucket with their name on it for friends and family…no bueno, too?

    • Kelly

      Thanks for the good question Melody! I am all for supporting local businesses. It sounds as if the toy store is located in the same geographic area as most of the parties your children may be attending, thus making it convenient for the party attendees. If asked, you could reply, “Whatever [fill in their child’s name] selects will be perfect. Molly did see a few items at Learning Express.” As long as “Molly has items in Learning Express’ birthday bucket” is NOT written on the invitation.

  2. I have seen articles and comments for and against the idea of registries for kids parties, and all of them do at one point say the same thing: if I get asked what I, or my child, would like, then I give them some suggestions. Ok, so that is not quite the same thing as a registry, but it IS still asking for something specific, or at least a specific idea (book or clothes). So instead of making a person have to ask you anyway, why not set up a registry? Seems like a roundabout way to still have to ask for what you would like.

    • Kelly

      Good question Rhiannon! A registry does seem like a much more direct way to let others know what you (or your child) wants. The distinction as to why I wouldn’t encourage a registry for a child’s birthday party is that instead of it being a party to celebrate a birthday, it becomes a request for gifts and can appear as assumptive or even greedy. The only two areas where gifts are assumed are baby showers (where we “shower” the new parent-to-be with gifts for their little one) and weddings/wedding showers – to help the couple establish their new life/home together. The other reason is that gift giving should always be a joy for the giver, having the pleasure of selecting something specifically for a friend or family member. Registries for birthday parties turns the pure & simple joy of giving into “I want” – which is a very different feel. I hope that helps clarify. Thank you for reading and weighing in!

  3. Just out of curiousity, what about a 1-year old’s first birthday?
    Hear me out when I say this.
    I don’t mean making an unreasonable one with lots of unnecessary toys etc. but specifically things that you know your child needs. Like clothes etc.
    Would this still be wrong?

    • Kelly

      Hi Jess,
      Thank you for your question. While I wouldn’t state “right/wrong”, the key point is that it should never be assumed that presents are going to be given – unless it is a wedding or shower (where the intent is to “shower” with love & gifts) . That is the point of etiquette. If there’s a gift registry for a child’s b-day (regardless of what is requested), it gives the impression of “telling” others what to bring as a gift, when truly you are having a party to celebrate the special birthday and not looking for gifts. I know, I know….we all know that people will show up to a party with a gift, so why not it be something your child needs/wants? It is still 100% fine to offer suggestions when people ask. This etiquette guideline may change over time, but as of now, this is still how it stands.

  4. How will i say to our guest that we are registered in some specific boutique without sounding demanding? Btw, my son is turning 1.

    • Kelly

      Hi Ivy,
      Thanks for your desire to ask with class! I’d suggest something like, “We are so happy to have you celebrate (son’s) milestone first birthday with us. Your presence, love and friendship is the truest of gifts to our family. We’ve also had many of you kindly ask what (son) would like for his birthday because you wish to get him a little something. For ideas and inspiration, please stop by (The Boutique).”

  5. I absolutely DISAGREE! Just because that’s not how it’s ever been done before doesn’t mean we can’t set a new standard. We get so many toys and it’s not that we don’t think most are amazing it’s just that we don’t live in a large house and I’d much prefer after I’ve spent hundreds of dollars entertaining your kids at our party for an afternoon, that if you feel so inclined to give a gift -NOT REQUIRED- simply pitch-in towards a major gift we’d like to buy like a Trampoline. This is not mandatory, we are not saying you can’t come to our admission only event unless you buy us a trampoline we are just saying we wanted our son to have a fun celebration with you, his friends and we’d love it if rather than us have more stuff we can’t fit in our home, if you’d like, donate to our trampoline wish fund.

  6. This is really old, but I’m hoping you will still answer. My daughter was recently invited to a party for a 5 year old. They listed a registry which only had gift cards on it! The invitation also suggested a money tree as a good gift. I was blown away. My daughter really enjoys playing with this girl at school so we will be going to the party, but I am definitely put off by the requests. I’m not sure what to do on the gift front.

    • Kelly

      Hi Cecili,

      I too would be put off by the gift-card request, especially the money tree. I’m glad to hear that you are not letting it overshadow your daughter’s friendship with the birthday girl. I’m sure the gift your daughter selected was perfect for her friend as it reflected what your daughter thought her friend would enjoy. That’s exactly what gift-giving should look like – a thoughtful gift from the heart of one person to the special person!
      I have concerns over this shifting balance of “I want lists” vs. suggestions (when asked). Many might think the two are the same and ask, “What’s the difference?” Fair question. For some reason, when a child creates a list (registry), there could be more of an expectation of receiving what is on the list, so the birthday becomes more about “the list” and less about celebrating with friends and family.
      My caution to others is that we should proceed with consciousness, consideration and caution as this aspect of etiquette continues to evolve. As a hyper-organized person, I also appreciate the perspective of not getting a lot of extra “stuff” that your child has no interest in and/or takes up space that you don’t have in your home. We simply have to find the proper balance of grace and function!

      Thanks for sharing Cecili!

  7. I made a birthday gift registry for my daughter for the family to pick from since we live out of state and they don’t see her often, they want to get her something she’ll want. Now we’re having a party here and she will be inviting about 20 kids between school and daycare. Should I include the gift registry with the invite or just a slip of paper of ideas of things she likes? We don’t care if they bring gifts or not but I thought it would be a good way to let them know what she’s interested in. She’s turning 8 if that helps at all.

    • Kelly

      Hi Jasmine,
      A gift registry for out-of-town relatives can come in handy these days. Between the shipping and kindly supplying ideas for what your daughter may enjoy from people who you know will be giving gifts, it is often smart as long as it’s handled with no expectations. I am still in the camp of not providing gift registry or gift suggestions in a child’s party invite to friends. Certainly if anyone asks, you can offer suggestions or share the list. By including it in the party invite, it turns the attention to the gift-giving vs. the true celebration of a birthday with friends. I hope this explanation helps. Happy 8th Birthday to your daughter and have fun with the party!

  8. Kelly

    Agreed – It’s perfectly acceptable to have a bridal and baby shower gift registries, although it is not be proper etiquette to list the registry on a wedding invitation. It could be listed for a bridal or baby shower by stating “Kelly is registered at…”

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