Is it the time of year where you plan, scrimp and save for your kid’s birthday party but aren’t sure the modern rules for how many kids to invite, what the of invitation to use, to serve food or not, opening presents in front of guests or yay or nay on goodie bags? This modern parent’s etiquette guide gives you the full scoop on how to host a kid’s birthday party in the 21st century.
As parents, celebrating the birth of our children is often a more anticipated even and planned with the same fervor as your own wedding. For kids, having a birthday party is more important than some holidays like the 4th of July or Thanksgiving. This one day a year is a special occasion where most parents throw their child a birthday party and celebrate the baby which made them a parent or expanded your brood.
Oftentimes we try our best to plan these occasions with utmost precision and make sure our kid’s party stands out on the birthday party circuit – but before you slap down your credit card and fill a couple carts at the party store, know that birthdays can be memorable without a huge guest list or going over budget.
These tips will help you be a gracious party host and throwing a party that’s just right for the age and personality of your child.
Guideline for the Number of People to Invite
A good rule of thumb for toddler and preschoolers who are having birthday parties is to invite the number of the child’s age plus one more. For example, if your child will be four, let her chose five guests to invite.
If you choose to have a joint party with a sibling or friend, this number might double to accommodate friends from both sides.
Email Versus Paper Invitations
Whichever avenue you take to send out invitations is up to you. There is no right or wrong way to invite your child’s friends and family to their birthday party, one may be more convenient or keepsake appropriate depending on your needs.
Sending electronic invitations is convenient, but some schools have strict policies against invitations being circulated at school. Often this is to make sure children who aren’t invited don’t feel left out and hurt.
If you chose to send invitations, this is a part of the party planning where you can involve your child in the planning. The excitement of picking out, writing, addressing and mailing (or handing out) invitations builds excitement for the party. Plus you get this time together to connect and share a fun experience.
Whatever you do, set an RSVP date on the invitation so you can get an accurate headcount and don’t have any surprise guests showing up at your door you’re unprepared for.
Do I Need to Invite The Entire Class?
Once kids are school age, this process of inviting the entire class versus a select few becomes tricky. If you plan to invite a few select kids from class, this is OK at not making the rest of the class feel left out. However, if you chose to invite more than half of the class, it’s appropriate to include the entire class and avoid hurt feelings or being rude.
Think of how your child would feel if they were one of the 2 or 3 kids without an invitation. Follow the golden rule and don’t leave anyone out unless you’re only inviting a few kids (5 or less).
If only a few kids from class are coming to your child’s birthday, see if you can have a small celebration at school by bringing donuts, a snack or cupcakes for everyone to share and celebrate together.
Having a “No Gifts Rule” at Your Kid’s Birthday Party
It’s perfectly OK to note on an invitation for guests to not bring gifts with a simple “please no gifts” or “your presence is gift enough” message. You don’t have to share your reasoning behind this choice or feel obligated to explain yourself.
When It’s Appropriate to Serve Food
This is entirely dependent upon the time of the party. If you have a party over the lunch or dinner hour, say 11:30am – 1:30pm or 4pm – 6pm, expect to serve kids a meal. Pizza, sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers or chicken tenders are kid-friendly foods easy to cook, order and serve.
If the party falls in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon having snacks on hand such as fruit, muffins, pretzels, chips and veggies are good to munch on before cake and cupcakes.
If you know kids who have special needs or food allergies will be attending, be sure to have appropriate food on hand so they get a chance to eat as well.
Do I Feed Parents Too?
If you’re feeding the kids, have food ready for their parents too. Parents appreciate feeling included versus being a wallflower waiting for the party to end and take their kid home. If they’re included they’ll also be more likely to pitch in to help. Include parents in the headcount for cake and cupcakes too!
If you’re hosting a big party and expect a crowd of parents and adults, it’s a good idea to offer grown up fare and adult beverages versus a juice box and hot dogs.
Opening Gifts or Saving Them for Later
Opening gifts after guests have left is acceptable party etiquette – and smart for a couple of reasons:
- Opening gifts in front of other kids can have negative outcomes. Gift giving can become a competition between the biggest and nicest gifts and can cause jealousy or even feelings or feeling left out if one child didn’t bring a gift or couldn’t afford more than a few dollars spent on a present.
- The focus of the party is on spending time together with guests and opening gifts puts the focus on materialism versus a quality experience with friends and family.
- Opening gifts can seriously cut into the birthday party time (especially if you’re sticking with an hour or two hour long party.)
- Depending on the birthday child’s personality, opening gifts in front of others may be an anxiety and tumultuous experience. A shy child can feel uncomfortable with guests watching him open presents.
- Opening gifts in front of others, can make guests feel obligated to give gifts. This can be uncomfortable if guests are unable to afford bringing a present.
- At the point in a party of gift-giving, kids can reach the point of being overstimulated. It might be best to calmly open presents at home away from onlookers when the environment is calm and parents can keep track of all the presents received for thank you notes.
However, as the parent, you know your child and their friends the best. If they have the attention span to sit through opening presents and there are only a handful of kids, this will probably be OK. For larger parties and for parties with young children who will get fidgety over git opening, saving gifts for later might be a better choice.
Yay or Nay on Goodie Bags
Thank You Notes
Thank you notes are a nice gesture, and are important to reinforcing gratitude for the gift a child has received. Having your child go around to thank guests for coming to the party at some point, although as they’re leaving is a great way to end the event, is a great way to say thank you in person.
If your child is old enough, they should be involved in the thank you card process.Let them create thank you cards with their own artwork and signature if they’re not quite writing age or if they’re old enough, have them write the thank you cards on their own.
Other Party Hostess Notes
- If you rent out a venue or hire professionals, tipping them for their services is proper etiquette. Tip as if you would at a restaurant – 15% standard and 20% for exceptional services.
- Prepare a couple extra goodie bags just in case an extra sibling comes along or items get broken or lost.
- Bring along extra cake and cupcakes in case of seconds for at least half the guests. Most won’t ask for more, but you want to be prepared in case they do.
- Have a back-up plan, especially if the birthday party is outside and things don’t go as expected. Plan activities, bring extra supplies and watch for kids who aren’t playing with others and gives them something to do.
If you’re looking to take things a little more casual this year, incorporating any of these wonderful birthday traditions into your child’s special day, will stand up against last year’s princess party complete with unicorn and petting zoo.