Kids’ Birthday Party Etiquette for the Party Hosts

As parents, we all want to create the perfect, memorable birthday party experience for our children.  But let’s face it, planning a birthday party at home can be overwhelming!  There are endless decisions to make, from choosing a theme, planning engaging activities, finding the perfect decorations, to baking a Pinterest-worthy birthday cake. 

Even more challenging are those tricky little questions that come up during the process.  Things like: how many guests to invite, whether to include siblings and how long the party should last. 

I have compiled a list of the most common birthday party etiquette questions so you can put your mind at ease.  After all, you need time to fill those favor bags.

  1. How many people should I invite?  The general rule for a child’s party is the child’s age plus one.  Some may choose to invite the whole class, but it is not mandatory.  It is perfectly acceptable to invite just a few of your child’s closest friends.  However, to avoid hurt feelings, make sure you are not excluding just a couple of kids in the class.  If you want to invite more than half of the class, it’s best to just invite the whole class. 
  2. Can I Distribute Invitations at School? This is fine ONLY if you are including everyone in the class.  I prefer sending online invitations or even paper invitations through the mail.
  3. Should I Include Siblings? It is completely your call whether to extend the party invitation to a guest’s siblings. If a guest does inquire about bringing a sibling along, just make sure you respond in a consistent manner to everyone that inquires.  (i.e., it wouldn’t be appropriate to include Mary’s sister, but not Ava’s.)
  4. How Long Should the Party Last? For preschool and school-aged children, 90 minutes is the magic number.  It is OK to stretch it to two hours, but make sure you have enough activities to fill the time.  I find it helpful to make a schedule in advance.  90 minutes provides ample time for the kids to arrive, play games/do activities, and have cake.  Be sure you tell parents exactly when to arrive to pick up the child after the party. And stick to the schedule so parents aren’t waiting around at the end.
  5. Do I Need to Feed the Guests a Meal? If the party is around a meal time, expect to serve guests a simple meal (e.g. take-out pizza), but if not, a few snacks (e.g., pretzels, veggies) are sufficient.  It is also thoughtful (but not required) to order an extra pizza or two for the parents of young kids who prefer to stay at the party.
  6. Should My Child Open Presents at the Party? This one could go either way, however most hosts hold off on opening presents until guests have gone home.  Young kids can get distracted or bored while the birthday child is opening multiple gifts.  Also, kids can become jealous, or want to play with the gifts, which could lead to hurt feelings and broken toys.
  7. Should I Send Thank You Notes? It is important to teach children to show gratitude to others.  Helping them write thank you notes to their party guests is a great way to do so.  If the child is old enough, she can write it herself.  A younger child can make a card with construction paper and crayons - and you can write a short note on her behalf. 

Happy Hosting!

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