Birthday party etiquette for kids
Birthday parties are just a party of life when you have children in your home…or at least they should be. Celebrating your child’s life with cake, ice cream, silly games and their friends is something every child deserves to have in their mental book of childhood memories. But…there is a thing as ‘too much birthday’-a celebration of excess and extravagance that ends up being nothing short of a nightmare!
NOTE: This article comes with additional required reading; Berenstain Bears’ Too Much Birthday.
Who to invite
One of the most often-asked questions asked in regards to children’s birthday parties is who to invite to the party. The answer… ‘It depends’. The guest list for your child’s party depends on a) their age b) their personality c) your budget d) location of the party.
AGE: a child’s first birthday is not nearly so much for the baby as it is for mom and dad and grandparents. A one year-old won’t remember the day or even remember you practically forcing them to cover themselves in icing. In other words…keep it simple and keep it small. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a few close friends and possibly their caregiver should comprise the guest list. The party should actually be a ‘thank-you’ for their involvement in your child’s life.
A child’s 2nd and 3rd birthday shouldn’t be very party-like. In other words, the games and party gear should be minimal. In fact, a trip to the zoo with your child and a couple of other moms/toddlers followed by a trip to the ice cream shop is sufficient if you do anything beyond a family celebration.
Once your child reaches their school years, you can follow the rule of thumb that’s been around for as long as anyone can remember…invite one child for every year of live your child is celebrating. This is a fairly safe way to avoid chaos-with a few qualifiers:
- Add an additional child when you need to make the total number in attendance an even number. An even number-be it 4 or 14 is better than an odd number of children at a gathering. The expression ‘odd man out’ didn’t come out of thin air.
- Parties in the park or other larger venue can accommodate a few more children. For instance…if you want to invite your child’s entire classroom, don’t try to cram them all into your living room, but taking them skating or to the kid’s play zone is fine.
Who not to invite
When planning your child’s birthday party, do not invite the following people:
- Your boss or his/her children (unless you already have a social relationship)
- Out of town relatives
- Children your child obviously doesn’t get along with
- Children your child doesn’t know
What kind of party to throw
Theme parties are loads of fun. But when planning your kids’ party, let them choose (within reason). It’s their party, isn’t it? Just be sure when you plan the party you keep the following in mind:
- Do not plan a party you can’t afford to pay for. My daughter once received an invitation to a birthday party she was going to be required to pay $20 to attend-not including the gift! Needless to say we were busy that weekend. If you can’t afford it-don’t do it.
- Make it age appropriate. The most inappropriate party I’ve ever heard of is the first birthday party for a little girl her parents held in their favorite pub. The nanny was on hand to be the designated driver for Dad, Mom and their friends.
- Other age-inappropriate parties include limo and spa parties for little girls and young teens (under 15) or rock concerts for children under 16 (unless it’s a children’s entertainer.)
- Budget-friendly parties are the best. Kids will spend more time playing with a cardboard box than the high-tech toy inside.
- Extravagant parties that will leave other parents feeling bested. Birthday parties often end up being a contest for parents-not a celebration for a child. Don’t be this parent.
How to invite
Invitations should always be mailed or hand delivered to the home. Never send invites to school with children or ask the teacher to distribute them-even if you are inviting everyone in the class. This party is your responsibility. Mailing also ensures all invitations end up in the hands of parents-not on the floor of the bus or bottom of the backpack.
Don’t do any last-minute inviting because you’ve heard someone’s feelings are hurt or you’re feeling guilty over leaving someone off the guest list. It’s terribly obvious to mom that her child is an afterthought. Not cool. Not nice.
On the day of the actual party, make sure you have adequate supplies for games and adequate food for everyone. Aside from that…here are other vital dos and don’ts for being the hostess with the mostest. FIY: no one seems to feel the need to RSVP these days. Plan on 3 or 4 more guests than you know are coming. Leftovers won’t go to waste.
- Remain calm and pleasant. If the children get rowdy or even break something, don’t lose your cool. Your child will remember nothing of the day but Mom snapping at the guests. What’s done is done. Deal with it later. This doesn’t mean you have to let the ‘natives’ run wild. Just be pleasant and friendly when correcting and steering the children in the right direction.
- Remind your child in advance that they are to treat each guest with the same kindness and appreciation.
- Keep things moving and keep them kid-friendly.
- Structure the party as follows: games, food and opening the gifts. Don’t allow more than about 15 minutes for opening gifts. By saving the gift opening until last, guests will be settled when parents come to pick them up and there will be less opportunity for your child to become disgruntled over sharing their new things. If you do have time left over, have another game ready to play or if feasible, allow them some free time to run off some of that sugar high.
- Don’t forget the goody bags. If you want to skip the junk, though, give each child a coupon for a free ice cream or yogurt, a kid’s meal, movie rental, book or t-shirt. The cost is the same or less than what you spend on those cute little bags of goodies that break by the time the kids get home.
Birthday parties can and should be a pleasant, memory-making experience. The simple joys of playing and sharing with friends, singing, blowing out candles, eating cake and socializing-that’s what it’s really all about.