The fall is upon us, which means birthday party invitations from your children’s friends are about to pour in. Birthday parties can be pretty fun and are an easy way to fill your weekend and exhaust your little ones. If you’re new to the birthday party circuit, there are some simple etiquette rules to keep in mind to keep your hosts happy and your mom friendships intact.
If I were to write the etiquette rules as the mom of a 3-year-old who’s just entered the world of birthday parties, there would be two: No one brings or accepts gifts, and goodie bags don’t exist. (No more plastic toys no one needs, please!) But I don’t write the rules, and I am guilty of giving out goodie bags because I felt it was expected. So, instead, we’ll explore some birthday etiquette rules to consider.
Here are some simple rules to live by whether you are attending or hosting a kids’ birthday party this year.
Attending Kids’ Birthday Parties
What should you do if an invitation says “no gifts”?
It can feel awkward to attend a birthday party without a gift. But, if a host asks you specifically not to bring one, respect their wishes. There are many reasons the hosts may have requested no gifts. Perhaps they have too many toys and are trying to practice minimalism with their kids. If you absolutely feel the need to provide a gift, consider donating to a cause you know the family cares about and sharing this in a card. However, if they say no gifts, do not bring one.
Can siblings attend?
If you have other children, do not assume they can tag along. Often it is fine, and often invitations will note “siblings welcome.” Yet, it’s always best to check. Some venues have limits and may charge per attendee. Plus, hosts are likely trying to figure out how much food to order, so it’s important they know how many people are attending. If you ask if a sibling can come, make sure the hosts don’t feel pressured to say yes.
What if my child is not invited?
It can be tough if your child is excluded from a party, but try your best not to be offended (or offended on your child’s behalf). Kids’ parties can get expensive, and the hosts may have to cut their numbers to accommodate their budget. Try not to take it personally if you aren’t invited to every single party. (Hey, it’s a free day on your calendar now!)
Should you send a gift if your child cannot attend?
There’s no hard rule for this one. If your kid cannot attend a party, you should not feel the need to send a gift. Sure, if it’s a very close friend or relative, it is a nice gesture, but it certainly is not required.
How can you help the host?
Kids’ parties can get chaotic quickly. While you’re a guest, see if you can help the host with simple tasks, like cutting and distributing cake, watching kids in the bounce house, or refreshing snacks. A small offer can go a long way for overwhelmed hosts. And while we’re at it, if you’re the overwhelmed host, accept help if guests offer!
Hosting Kids’ Birthday Parties
Abide by school rules
Some schools have strict rules about birthday parties and that if you are having one—especially when sharing invites at school—you must invite the entire class. Although, this can be tough for some families financially and logistically.
If it’s too much to host a party for the whole class, do not feel pressured to do it. Instead, plan a special family day or invite one or two best friends to a celebratory outing. If you still want to host a party for the entire class, don’t feel pressured to go all out on party expenses. See where you can cut back to ensure the party doesn’t break the bank. Kids are often happy to just spend time together.
Send invitations virtually or through the mail
Even if you’re inviting all of your kid’s classmates to a party, it’s best not to distribute invitations in school. They can get lost or seen by friends in other classes. So, it’s best to send them via email or through the mail.
Consider allergies for guests
If you are serving food, you can ask your guests in advance if there are any allergies you should know about. It’s best practice to omit peanuts from parties.
Don’t open gifts at the party
While opening gifts might seem like an easy way to kill time at a party, it’s not that fun for guests. On top of that, it can make attendees feel uncomfortable. And for little kids, it can be awkward if they don’t know how to fake excitement about a gift they aren’t actually excited for. Skip this step and open gifts after the party has ended. If you want to show your child’s excitement about their gifts, you can send a picture of the child enjoying the gift to the gift giver. This can also serve as a thank you note if you’d prefer not to send formal thank you cards.
Set a clear time frame
Though birthday parties can be a blast, they are exhausting for both the hosts and the attendees. Set a firm time frame, so guests know when they are welcome and when the party is scheduled to wrap up.
Let parents know if they should stay
This can often be obvious based on the age of attendees, but it’s great to let guests know if it’s a drop-off party or if parents are expected to stay. State this in the invitation so you aren’t fielding multiple questions from guests and parents.
If you are having a drop-off birthday party, consider asking guests for an RSVP via text message. This way, you’ll have each other’s phone numbers just in case you need to contact a child’s parent during the party. At a minimum, make sure the parent dropping off their kid has your number.
Thank your guests
After my daughter’s recent birthday party, many attendees were surprised that I sent thank you notes. Although I find mailing thank you notes to be a bit old school, it felt right to thank everyone for attending and for the gifts. It isn’t a necessity to send thank you notes, but it is nice to show gratitude to your guests (and to teach your kids gratitude). If you don’t want to send thank you notes, work with your kids to send a quick email or text to attendees to show that you are thankful. Again, a picture of your child with the gift or with the attendees at the party is a nice way to show thanks.