The Do’s and Don’ts of Birthday Party Etiquette




Have you even planned a birthday party for your child, and were ready to tear your hair out by the end of the process? There are things you can and cannot control, so it’s probably best to just go with the flow, but if you have a Type A personality like myself, sometimes it’s really not all that easy.

You may even be the person adding the frustration to someone else hosting a party and you don’t even know it! Here are a few tips for birthday party etiquette. I am not claiming to be an expert on the rules of etiquette, but there a few things I have learned along the way that I know I have done to others to frustrate them, and vice versa so I thought I’d air out my dirty laundry and let you guess which offences I am guilty of.

DO RSVP. This is huge. Some people plan arrangements by the numbers, or pay for each child’s admission, so make sure you RSVP by the date mentioned on the invitation. Don’t assume it doesn’t matter if you RSVP – it may mean that the party giver is paying for your child because they may come, when you never had the intention of doing so.

DON’T just bring your child’s sibling without asking. The party venue may only hold a certain number of children, or the party may not be appropriate for children of a certain age. Don’t just assume you can bring all of your kids – ask the parent hosting the party first if it’s ok to bring your child’s siblings.

DO attend the party yourself. A birthday party is not an invitation for you to leave your child for free babysitting. There very well may be parties that allow this, and there are definitely some planned-activity parties that are specifically just for kids. At the very least contact the parent first if you are unsure if you should stay or not. It’s not ok to just do a kiss and run at a birthday party so you can go shopping unless you clear it with the party-throwing parents first.

DON’T stress about how much you are spending on the present. I don’t believe there is a specific amount acceptable for a birthday present. Go with your gut. Maybe it won’t be appropriate to buy the child your kid goes to school with that you hardly know a Power Wheels. It’s a fun experience for your child to go shopping and choose the gift they will give their friend. It teaches them about sharing with others as well, and they may have a better idea what the child will want then you do! If money is tight, get creative and make something, or even give something aimed at the parents like that child spending a day with your child at the zoo (free babysitting for the parents!), or a sleepover night.

DON’T assume that you have to give out treat bags. Yes it’s really fun to give away some great items to children as a thank you for coming to a party, but it’s not obligatory. Especially if you are spending a lot on the party itself, or if money is tight you don’t have to go into debt for a treat bag. They can get expensive – even if you are packing them with dollar store items.

DO tell the parents about food allergies early! Don’t wait until the day of to mention your child can’t eat whatever is being provided. If your child has an allergy let the parents who are hosting know right away so they can make arrangements, and just in case be prepared yourself with something in your purse in case they forget. Nothing is worse than a tired, hungry child who can’t eat what is put in front of them for lunch. Take some ownership yourself and have a back up plan just in case!

DON’T worry about sending a gift if your child can’t make the party, unless it’s a last minute sickness/issue, or if it’s one of your child/families close friends. It’s not like a shower or wedding – if you child can’t make it you don’t need to send a gift. If it’s a child that is close to your family, or your child’s good friend then it makes sense to have something for them when you see them, but if it’s a classmate it’s not expected.

DON’T worry about thank you cards. I personally love sending out thank you cards for pretty much everything under the sun, but it’s not expected for a child’s birthday party. It’s hard enough to get the birthday party invitations out, let alone thank you card’s later! If you can manage it, then it’s a lovely touch, but don’t think you look ungrateful because you didn’t send any out after your child’s birthday party. It’s not an expectation!

DON’T stress about opening the presents at the party. My son is still a toddler, and opening presents can either be amazing, or a disaster. What if he doesn’t like what he opens and expresses that? What if he refuses to say thank you? What if he gets stage fright because everyone is watching? It’s great to open presents at the party to show appreciation to everyone for what they brought your child. It’s also a great learning experience for your child to express “thanks” to friends and family for what they have been given. If things get crazy at the party and time runs out, it’s ok if the gifts didn’t get opened – that may be a great time to think about sending thank you cards out.

DO listen to the parent when they say “no gifts please”. If they are asking you not to bring a gift, don’t think it’s a mind trick and bring one anyway! They mean it if they say it, so just follow whatever instructions the parents provide. Maybe their child really just want’s your child’s company at the party. Maybe they really don’t need gifts. Just do as the parent’s ask and relax!

DO add the gift receipt to the gift. It’s just polite. There may be doubles or triples of the gift. Make their life easier.

DON’T think you have to reciprocate an invitation if you child is invited to a birthday party. There is no absolute rule that if some kid named Bobby that you have never heard of before invites your child to a party, that you need to receiprocate. Absolutely try to include everyone if you can, and especially don’t try to exclude anyone. It’s not the child that will hold a grudge, it’s the parents! If you have space restrictions or financial restrictions, then make the decision that is best for you and your child.  All that is expected from you is to have good intentions.

Birthday parties are like weddings – you don’t remember much about them years later other than if you had a good time or not. The one thing you do remember is how much you spent on your own party! Don’t go into debt or think you have to spend a lot of money for the kids to have a good time. Will anyone actually remember what was in those loot bags you stressed over a year ago? Probably not, so don’t stress to much about the small stuff, and enjoy yourself!



Mandy Furnis




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