Kids' Birthday Party Etiquette for Hosts

Avoid these manners mistakes when hosting a kid's party

Good manners make parties much more fun.. Andersen Ross/Getty Images

When you're planning a kids' party, you're probably focused mostly on details like food, entertainment, party games, and activities. But it's worth taking a few minutes to go over basic party etiquette for hosts with your child and to review host etiquette for parents as well.

The recent story about a mom in England who decided to send an invoice to the family of a boy who failed to show up at her son's birthday party despite having previously sent a "yes" reply in their RSVP is a perfect example of what can happen when good manners are not followed by either the host or the guest.

While most parents would neither send an invoice (no matter how tempting it may be) nor skip a party at the last minute, there are other ways we can make sure we exercise good manners when we host or are guests at a kids' party. (For tips on how to be a good guest at a kids' party, read "Kids' Birthday Party Etiquette for Guests.") Here are some etiquette tips to keep in mind the next time you host a birthday party or any other special celebration for kids.

Birthday Party Etiquette for Host Parents

  • Give out invitations through email or mail rather than in class. This avoids two problems: One, if you are not inviting every child in the class, a child who is not invited might feel left out or hurt. And two, the teacher might not want the disruption and distraction that may be caused by passing out party invites at school. "It should be just like the gum rule--if you don't have enough for everyone, then don't take it out," says Anna Post, co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th edition, and spokesperson for the The Emily Post Institute.
  • Send out invitations at least two weeks to a month in advance. How much notice you give parents depends on how many people are invited and how big a commitment guests have to make--if they need to prepare for an overnight, a trip, travel, and so on," says Post. For older school-age kids, who tend to be very busy on weekends doing extracurricular activities, it's a good idea to send out invites at least a month before the big date.
  • Ask about food allergies. These days, as the rates of food allergies rise in children, it's important for host parents to ask parents of children who are invited to let them know about any allergies. Do what you can to accommodate those children so that they are safe and healthy at the party.
  • Consider having a classroom party. If you want to host a very small gathering for your child's closest friends, you can always consider having a celebration at school for the entire class--provided it's okay with the teacher. (Some schools opt to have all the birthdays in a given month celebrated on one designated day to avoid having too many disruptions.) And if you do have an in-class party, be sure to be considerate about keeping the cost to a minimum so that kids who may not be able to afford swanky gift bags or other pricy swag are spared the social pressure of keeping up, says Post.
  • Remind kids not to talk about the party. It's normal for children to be excited about an upcoming party and to want to discuss it at school. But if you're hosting a party for a select few friends, ask the parents to remind their kids not to talk about the party in school to avoid hurting the feelings of anyone who isn't on the invite list. "Some parents might say, 'Kids need to get used to it; that's how life is,'" says Post. "But it's important to teach kids early to see things from other people's perspective and to be kind to others."
  • Don't plan on games that only your child may excel at without considering other children's interests and abilities. If your child is a masterful gymnast, he may want to have a party centered around that theme. But remember to set up activities that all kids can do, whatever their skill level at a particular activity.
  • Roll with the unexpected. If the pizza is delivered late or a guest shows up with siblings in tow, keep calm and stay gracious. Have backup snack ready, and if unexpected guests show up, be welcoming. And remember to smile!
  • Respond to rudeness with good manners. Whether it's failure to RSVP, bringing along unexpected guests, or failing to show up after saying they would, invited guests can sometimes behave rudely. But "two rudes don't make a polite," says Post. If a guest fails to show up, it doesn't mean you are owed money, even if reservations and payment had to be made in advance, says Post. Should the parents of the child who missed the party apologize and offer to pay? Absolutely. But the host parents should not expect--and definitely should not demand--to be reimbursed.

Birthday Party Etiquette for Birthday Boys/Girls

One of the most important reasons why we teach our kids good manners is that it's ultimately good for them. People who are considerate of other people's feelings are more apt to be liked and to have friends who are also kind and considerate. Here are some things we can teach kids about how to be a well-mannered host.

  • Be considerate of your guests' needs and preferences. Your child may want to play certain games or do activities a certain way, but remind her that being a good host means also considering your guests' needs and interests. It's important to be flexible and make sure everyone is having fun.
  • Make sure everyone is included. While your child may be tempted to primarily play with his closest friends, explain that it's important to make sure all his guests feel included and welcome.
  • Set a good example. Explain to your child that her guests are going to take their cues from her. If she is respectful and follow along with the adults in charge of the party, chances are her guests will, too. If she feels tired and cranky, tell her to take a few minutes instead of whining or not listening. (This last part will work better with older kids, but it doesn't hurt to start the conversation with your young child so that she can work on these skills early.)
  • Consider guests' feelings when opening gifts. Tell your child, "If we decide you should open your gifts at the party [which is a decision every family should make for themselves, says Post], then be sure you don't play with a favorite gift and put aside the others." Teach him to say "Thank you" and to never, ever say something like, "I don't like this" or "I don't want this."
  • Write thank you notes. Teach gratitude early. Give your child a set of cards and pens and ask them to write thank you notes to everyone who gave them a present. Even younger school-age kids can at least sign their names to a note you have written.

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