Birthday Party Etiquette

Birthday Party Etiquette @TBMomBlogWith school starting back in just a few more days, it’s time for those birthday party invites to start coming home with your kids again.  Say goodbye to your Saturdays because they now belong to your children.  Instead of dreading birthday parties, let’s see if we can’t shed some light on some birthday party etiquette so maybe you won’t hate them so bad.

Invites.  Who do you invite?  Who don’t you invite?  How do you invite them?  This one can be tricky depending on the age of your child. For the younger birthdays they are usually reserved for friends and family since babies and toddlers might not have as many school friends as the older children.  For the school age children they really want to spend their birthday with their friends, but what if they aren’t friends with everyone in the class?  Most schools have banned handing out birthday invites at school to avoid conflicts.  If your school does allow your child to hand out invites be considerate of the entire class.  If you don’t invite everyone, you risk hurting a child’s feelings.  Depending on where the birthday party is, you may be paying per child for the party and not be able to afford 20-30 kids.  A good way to avoid any undue drama would be to ask the teacher for a class email list and send an email to the parents of those children who you are inviting.  You may also have their phone number or run into the parents at drop off or pick up.  Aside from inviting the entire class, there aren’t many ways to guarantee that Little Joey isn’t left out.  One way we handled this at my son’s 6th birthday was to invite everyone in the class to the main party (at the house) and then tell him he can pick 3 of his friends to spend the night.  That way he gets to spend some quality time with his real friends after the party.  As your child gets older this becomes easier because you probably know the parents of the friends that they want to invite.

RSVPs.  I know, we are all guilty of not giving an RSVP until a few days before.  I remember one year I called the night before and asked if it was too late to RSVP for the party.  Here’s the scoop on RSVPs – put yourself in the other parents place – would you like to have an accurate headcount before the party?  The party hosts have to plan ahead so there are enough drinks, food, goodie bags, cake, and anything extra they will be providing.  If they are having the party at a place that charges per child they really need to know how many kids are coming.  For my daughter’s 4th birthday we held it at Chuck E Cheese (she begged), but her birthday is January 4th, right before school gets back in for the new year.  We sent invites out to the class before school got out for Christmas break knowing that we probably wouldn’t hear from most of them.  We had to have a minimum of 6 children show up out of the 10 invited.  I actually invited about 15 so we would be sure that at least 6 would show up.  On the day of the party we had 2 kids not show up (who RSVPd) which left us with only 4 kids.  We were stuck paying the bill for those 2 kids who didn’t show up.  I know that our lives are busy and we may not know what we’re going to be doing on any given weekend, but please RSVP for the sake of the parent hosting the party.  If you aren’t sure if you can make it let them know you’re a maybe.  If you have to cancel let them know so they can invite other children or make other arrangements.

Guests.  Who gets to go to the birthday party?  Unless it was specified on the invite or discussed with the parents, assume that the invitation is for your child and possibly yourself (or other parent/guardian).  Don’t show up to the skating rink for Little Susie’s 7th birthday with your entire family of 6 and expect the party host to pay for everything.  The party is for the child whose birthday it is and their friends. Depending on the age of the child you may be able to drop them off and pick them up after the party. Discuss that with the parents ahead of time if you aren’t sure.  My son is 10 and I still haven’t ever had a party where I dropped him off, but we may if we happen to be pretty good friends with the parents of his friends.  If the party is at a house or a park you can likely get away with bringing along siblings and family members but note that, unless you’ve discussed it with the parents first, they may not have enough food, drink, and goodies for the sibling. I’d rather ask ahead of time then show up to a party and have the host unprepared for your family.

Gifts.  How much you spend on the gift should be up to you.  Every family has their own budget on what is normal for them to spend on a birthday present.  Don’t feel like you have to compete with the other families to out-do them.  Most parties that I’ve been to recently don’t even open the presents at the party, especially if it’s at a special location where you only have the room for an hour or two.  If you’re the party host let your child know ahead of time when they will be allowed to open their gifts so they aren’t disappointed at the party.  I personally think it’s fun for the kids to open the presents in front of their friends so they can really appreciate their guests.  If you do open gifts at the party be sure to talk to your child ahead of time (especially the younger children) about how to accept gifts graciously even if they don’t like it or if it’s a duplicate gift.  Teach them to always thank the gift giver.

Goodie Bags.  I’m not sure when the whole idea of goodie bags for the guests started to be party etiquette because we never had goodie bags as a child.  I personally hate the little plastic bags full of toxic plastic toys that will break the first time your child plays with them.  Or the bags full of candy that your child isn’t allowed to eat.  Can we as parents please take a look at the goodie bag tradition and make a few changes?  You will probably spend a lot less money by getting them one small gift than you will buying the 10 cheap plastic toys.  I was at a 2 year old Minnie Mouse themed party where the guest were all given a pair of Minnie ears (on a headband – approx $2 each) and a Minnie sippy cup (approx $1-2 each).  They also left with a painting that they painted during the party in a paper Minnie frame that the mom made from copy paper.  Rethink the goodie bags and if you feel the need to send the guests home with a gift, make it something fun that won’t end up in the garbage the next time I clean their room.  For my daughter’s last birthday each guest got to take home a Hello Kitty cake pop that we made for them along with a coloring book.

Thank you notes!  When was the last time that your child wrote a thank you note?  Have they ever?  My parents made us sit down and write thank you notes for every birthday and holiday gift we ever received.  I admit that I’m not as strict as my parents were and that I probably don’t write enough thank you notes myself, but we should at least teach our children how to be thankful.

What about you?  What bothers you about birthday parties?  What do you wish you could tell other parents?  

Calley is an energetic mom of two (ages 4 and 10) and wife to a sports fan.  When she isn't playing with her kids or watching sports with her husband she enjoys blogging, crafts, and going to the beach.  She currently works full-time in social media for a cloth diaper company and has a passion for green living and the environment.  Calley and her family have lived in the Bay area for 8 years and survives on coffee and kickboxing.  You can find Calley on her blog The Eco Chic and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.


  1. I’m making my 2 year old write thank you notes! I think they are important and sadly not something that most people teach their kids these days. Sure he can’t write, but he can draw on some paper and I can write about how much he loves the present they gave!

  2. I hate goodie bags, and we haven’t even been to birthday parties, really. Not in school yet. But from activities often we get things and it’s just.. too much. Plus a lot of the items are huge choking hazards or full of dye that trips my kid’s trigger… We went to one and the parents gave full sized candy bars and some little containers of play doh. Not too many or too much, but still a lot given that my LO was only 2 at the time I think (the other kid was much older, from church so it wouldn’t have been too much for that age child probably)…

    We’ve sent home cookies with family before (haven’t done friends yet) and sent rice crispie treats to a function (wrapped) for a birthday that fell on that day in particular for everyone in that class. They all had a snack anyway, but felt like we had to do something…

    I think a cookie or a leftover cupcake is fine. The one party we went to, the family took pictures of the child with the friend whose present they opened (so they knew who gave what!) and then we got a thank you note. It was awesome. I try and do thank you notes for birthdays and holidays. It’s harder when kids are smaller because they tear through things, and then people want to OPEN everything (hello, duplicate gifts in our house now, dangit!) so the kids can play with it. Then you can’t keep track of who gave what…or return anything that’s a choking hazard, inappropriate, or a 2nd see and say. What do you do with 2? Hide one, that’s what…

    I definitely don’t look forward to birthday parties in our future. Most of the time they seem to be at weird hours when it’s really inconvenient for a growing family to deal with. Forget nap time for anyone those days. Blech… and if you have a party at 3 pm the kids are eating cake close to 5. Ruin dinner? Of course. Not only are you not able to cook anything ahead of time, but then you’re taking home a kid who doesn’t want to eat real food and trying to deal with the sugar rush and cranky kids.

    Not to mention, how do the other parents feel if you don’t give a goodie bag but they expect it? We’re already older than a lot of what will be our kid’s classmates parents, and our values are much more old school. We didn’t have them growing up and so it’s still kind of a foreign concept to us. I think the ‘cup’ idea is a good one. You can get a cup from the megamart for under $1 and let the kid use it at a party (name tag them somehow) and then send the cup home. There’s one for every single character out there. Less to be thrown away, and something to remember the party by.. but still…

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