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Birthday Party Etiquette

Party favors, thank you notes . . . inviting the whole class?!

When it comes to throwing a kid’s birthday party, there are a lot of dos, don’ts and maybes. Clear up the grey areas of polite partying with these helpful tips.

Guests & Invitations

In all the excitement of party planning, you and your child may have a hard time narrowing down their guest list. As a parent, you can implement the “Age +1” rule, inviting one kid for each year of your child’s age, plus one.

Don’t pass out invitations at school unless you’re inviting everyone, explains Renae Weghorst of Etiquette Indianapolis. “If you do not want that many at the party, send invitations in the mail,” she says. “You should not feel obligated to invite siblings, but if a parent is expected to stay and attend the party, then siblings should also be invited as a convenience to that parent.”

For school-age children, a general rule of thumb is if you plan to invite nearly the whole class, you should just invite everyone. Otherwise, keep it to half the class or less, or all one gender.

Gifts

It’s common courtesy to bring the birthday kid a gift, unless the invitation says, “No gifts, please.” In this case, you can have your child make the birthday kid a nice card. One trend in birthdays is a “fiver party,” where each guest brings a five-dollar bill, so the birthday kid can save up for something he or she really wants and the toys don’t get out of control.

While some people think it’s rude not to open gifts during the party, others don’t want to take away time from the other activities, especially when paying hourly for a venue. If you choose to open gifts during the birthday party, make sure not to drag it out too long, especially with a group of restless preschoolers. Prep your child to make eye contact and say “thank you” after opening each gift, even duplicates or those they don’t like!

Birthday etiquette gifts

Thank You Notes

During the party, jot down each gift and the giver’s name. If your child can write, have them handwrite thank-you notes after the party. “Or perhaps they can sign their name,” Weghorst suggests. “A thank you note does not have to be long — three sentences thanking them for the gift, what they liked about it, and how much they appreciated that person coming to their party.”

You can mail the cards or have your child hand-deliver them to their friend’s home, but avoid passing them out at school. To save paper, some parents choose to give an extra verbal thank you or send a quick text. The point is to make sure you are teaching your child to show gratitude.

Party Favors

Some parents love goodie bags, and others think they’re clutter. It’s up to you whether you choose to gift favors, but you don’t have to go overboard. Try giving one item, such as a coloring book, sunglasses or something to do with the party theme. You can also have guests decorate a small bag at the party to fill later with candy. Whatever you decide, it’s smart to keep a few extras on hand in for siblings who attend. Hand these out at the end so nobody forgets, and make sure your child is at the door saying “goodbye” as each guest leaves!

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