Three years ago, Dhruv Gupta came back from a birthday party with an unusual return gift—two goldfish in a bowl. The fish barely managed to survive for three weeks before going belly up.

Budding painter: Geetanjali Kapre still has a few potted plants left over from her birthday bash. Madhu Kapparath / Mint

For a child, a birthday party is as much about the cake, candles and musical chairs as it is about return gifts. The take-home tokens are a part of the celebration, and whether you like it or not, children look forward to returning home with goodies. And when they get dried-up play dough, boxes of crayons or chocolates, they are disappointed.

“About 50% of parents outsource birthday party planning but want to do their own return gifts. My advice to them is, don’t deviate from the theme and don’t leave return gifts-shopping as the last thing on your list. You will end up scrambling, and buy the wrong things," says Rabiba Gidwani of Clowns R Us, a Mumbai-based birthday party planner.

Spending money is not the only way to make your gifts stand out. It is important that you think about what it is that you want your child’s friends to take away from his/her birthday party.

For her six-and-a-half-year-old daughter Nandita’s last birthday, Gitanjali Anand, 41, chose to give table mats and napkins made by young people at Kshitij—a Mumbai NGO that works with the mentally challenged. “My girls had got lovely colourful piggy banks from Kshitij as gifts for Christmas. We visited their outlet for gift ideas; both my girls were quite enthusiastic because they knew that the money spent would go for a good cause." Previous return gifts have included tailor-made Harry Potter capes for her Potter-maniac elder daughter Tara’s birthday.

Gowri Satyamoorthy Kapre, 34, made her daughter Geetanjali’s fourth birthday special by buying gifts related to one of her interests. “Geetanjali loves pottering around in her grandmother’s garden. So I decided I would get soil, pots, saplings, get children to paint the pots and then plant the saplings." But when Kapre thought it over, she realized that the process could get messy and decided to buy potted plants instead. About 10 days before the birthday, she got Rajdhani nursery at Jor Bagh, New Delhi, to plant the saplings in earthen pots and then picked up the plants three days before the party. On D-day, 15 children had a great time painting the pots, and then took home their own plants.

Fishy tale: Avoid complex gifts.

The minute you get a child involved in making or decorating her return gift, the item becomes even more attractive to the child, says Rashi Chopra of Full of Life–The Children’s Party Co. Delhi-based Chopra advises parents to schedule an activity around a return gift and thinks Kapre’s potted plants are a perfect example.

Chopra also believes that it is better to give three or four small things rather than one big item as a return gift. “Where return gift budgets are around Rs500 per gift, I recommend a bag of goodies—with chocolates, candy, etc., a theme-based return gift and an activity-based one."

Venkatraman suggests replacing the chocolates with nut and jaggery chikki wrapped in colourful paper. Other ideas from her: a subscription to a children’s magazine; a diary to encourage the habit of writing; a framed photograph of the birthday girl/boy and his/her friend (this may have to be delivered the next day!); or a jar of organic jam (try Fabindia).

While no amount is the “right" sum to spend on return gifts (Gidwani claims a client once spent Rs5 lakh on customized strolley bags filled with goodies as return gifts), both party planners believe that unisex items such as stationery and books work best if you have a large crowd. “For a smaller number, you can look at more expensive gifts, but if you have the whole class attending, then opt for items which children are likely to use. But make an effort to source good quality products," advises Gidwani.

Gupta’s return gift mantra sums it up neatly: “Make the gift relevant, something that a child can utilize, and make sure it is an item you would not mind your own child using."


28 fun takeaways

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