What you should know about birthday party etiquette
Navigating the world of children’s birthday parties can certainly be overwhelming. Do I have to invite my kid’s entire classroom these days? I love the ease of Evite, but is it rude? I love that my child is invited to so many parties, but what if I don’t have the cash for all those birthday presents? Don’t worry, parents, because I have your roadmap for avoiding birthday etiquette potholes.
Let’s start with who to invite. Not everyone has the space/money to accommodate every child your kid wants to (or feels like they have to) invite. Find out the rule at your kid’s school for inviting politely (e.g., invite all the girls to a girl party, invite only who you want but send invitations discreetly and don’t blab about it, etc.). You can always give your child a set number that you are willing to have at the party, and have her choose wisely.
Now that you have a number in mind, it’s time to hit the computer to set up that Facebook event and start inviting, right? Hold on a minute. How about instead you hit the party store with your little birthday munchkin and have him pick out some themed invitations he can either fill out himself or at least help decorate? However …
… I am all for sending out electronic reminders to RSVP if you do not hear back within a few days before the party. You need an accurate count, after all, and you sending an email reminder or giving a quick phone call is no more rude than someone not sending their response in the first place. (note: I am not saying you should fight rude with rude!) Christine Glazier, mom of 6, says, “Call! I’m forgetful and/or my child has lost the invitation!”
If someone asks what your kid wants for his birthday, it’s polite to say, “I’m sure anything your son picks out will be wonderful.” Of course you aren’t going to ask for a $200 building brick set, but you might want to throw out some general small gift ideas. If you have no idea, art supplies are usually a sure bet.
Now you have to decide about the great Gift Opening Controversy. Do you have your kid open them at the party or wait until after? I say put the birthday kid in one chair and the gift bearer in another. Have your child open the gift bearer’s present while you snap a picture of them together. If the kids get bored, remind them cake is on the horizon. Oh, and don’t forget to remind your child about the basics of receiving gifts (say “thank you” even if you hate the gift or already have the same thing in 4 colors). Parents: promptly put the gifts (especially gift cards and cash!) out of sight so new things don’t get broken or lost.
These days many kids are either allergic to some food item or their parents won’t allow it. So even though we eat a steady diet of processed foods, I like to have some all natural ice cream (easy to find and not expensive) and sometimes even make an all natural or low-sugar cake if I’m feeling industrious that day. If an attendee is allergic to something, and if you can easily accommodate them, it’s just a thoughtful thing to do.
It’s up to you if you want to send home goody bags or favors with the kids. Maybe you can’t afford them or just think they are ecologically ridiculous. At one party my daughter attended, the girls painted wooden birdhouses to take home. If you just love putting together goody bags, however, feel free to go all out!
To thank or not to thank? Remember that picture you snapped earlier? Have it printed and place it in a thank you note that your child writes (or maybe he can just “sign” it if he’s too small).
Happy Birthday … to someone else’s kid!
It’s hard to watch your child get upset over not being invited to a party because, even as adults, we know how that feels. Explain to your child that maybe the parents of the birthday kid had to limit the number of guests and that it’s most likely nothing personal.
What if Audrey came to your daughter’s party recently, but now you can’t attend Audrey’s party? Friends, you have enough to worry about in your life without keeping track of this sort of thing. Please don’t worry about taking a gift anyway unless you want to, unless this is a great friend of your child’s or unless you want to go broke.
What if you have many more children than your friend does? Well, you have two choices here. You can either splurge on a big present for her kid annually or take care of her in little ways throughout the year (grab her a coffee, pay for her movie, etc.).
If you have more kids than just the one who was invited, ask the birthday child’s parent if you can, for instance, just drop off an older kid for the party. The hostess might be okay with you bringing your entire brood, or it might make her uncomfortable to add more chaos to the party. Just ask beforehand so you don’t show up with your huge family when you only RSVP’d for one. That would be rude.
What to spend? Jill Connors, mom of 5, says, “I like to keep it close to $10, but will occasionally spend up to $20 ... it gets harder as the kids get older.” There is no magic number, but make sure your child participates in the process of picking out the gift. If your party budget is closer to zilch, consider baking something with your child to give to the birthday child or make a special craft as a gift. Angeliina Lawson, mom of 1, shares, “When I see some fun toys in the Target clearance bins, I stock up. I use the Sunday comics as my tissue paper and reuse previous birthday bags – it’s the new trend.”
If the party is at a place where there is an admission fee and you simply can’t afford it right now, it’s okay to turn down the invitation. You might want to have the birthday child over for a playdate another time to give them their gift and celebrate with them.
Kerrie McLoughlin is the seasoned mom of 5 who writes about her controlled household chaos at TheKerrieShow.com.