Kids’ birthday parties. We love ’em and we hate ’em. Some moms love to throw big, lavish bashes. Others cash out for the party package at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Yet others skip the party altogether, opting to bribe their kids with bigger gifts in exchange for smaller or nonexistent celebrations.
One thing is certain, however. If you have kids, you’re going to be invited to kids’ birthday parties.
As the mom of two kids, I’ve thrown a few parties. Some have been big. Some have been venue packages. In that time, I’ve witnessed and learned that we all need to be reminded of some basic party guest etiquette. They may be kids’ parties, but that doesn’t mean we adults should act like kids too.
Here are some rules – from one mom to another – about how to be, or not to be, a good kids’ birthday party guest.
It’s really important to let the host/hostess know if you’re coming. Parties at event venues (think Chuck E. Cheese’s, gymnastics, laser tag, roller rinks, etc.) charge per guest. Help the party planner out by letting them know if you’re coming or not.
Even if the party is in the kid’s backyard, let the parents know. They’ll want to make sure they have enough cake and goodie bags for all the kids. If you don’t RSVP, they’ll either over-spend on unnecessary extras, or some kid(s) will leave the party in tears because they didn’t get their own little bag of trinkets.
On top of that, be sure to RSVP per the RSVP methods requested. If the invitation asks for a text or email, send the text or email. If it asks for a phone call, make the phone call. While it may be easy for you to say in passing at school, “We’ll see you Saturday!” – it’s better for the hosts if you can help them tally head count in whatever way works best for them.
2. RSVP on time
Be sure to RSVP as soon as possible. If there’s a deadline to the RSVP, be sure to RSVP by that time. If you miss the RSVP deadline, unless you are particularly close with this child’s family, you’d be better to politely send regrets rather than expect them to change plans last minute. If you forgot to RSVP altogether and then remember the party on the day of the event, it’s too late. Forget about the party this time. Send a gift or card at another time if you like, but do not show up without RSVP’ing.
3. Think Twice About Siblings
If you have more than one child, it might seem easy for you to bring them all to the party. Think twice about that, though. If your additional child or children are more than 2 years in age apart, plus or minus, from the guest of honor, it would probably be best if you made other plans for them. 10-year-olds don’t belong at 3-year-old birthday parties. Likewise no 16-year-old wants a hoard of 7-year-old boys running amuck at their almost grown-up party.
When we threw my son’s 5th birthday party, we invited his whole kindergarten class. One family didn’t RSVP but proceeded to show up anyway, with their 5-year-old son plus his 11 and 13-year-old brothers. As the hostess, I didn’t want to turn anyone away, but a 5-year-old birthday party really isn’t appropriate for pre-teen boys – especially when they’re sharing bounce houses with kids one-third their size. On top of that, we had to pay for the older siblings to attend the party at this venue. That meant an additional $30–$40 in fees for the uninvited pre-teen guests.
Likewise, we recently threw my 4-year-old daughter a princess themed party. I made a point not to invite the boys from her class as we wanted to keep things “prim and proper.” (I have a son so I know how 3 and 4-year-old boys can be.) This strategy also seemed to help deter parents from bringing along older male siblings. While there are some events that are suited for guests of all ages, sometimes the party’s nicer when the guest list is kept to those intended.
Of course the exception to this rule is babies. As moms, we get it. Sometimes we can’t leave the baby at home. Typically, bringing the baby along to a kids birthday party is fine. Don’t expect the hosts to have formula or baby food or anything for the baby to do, of course, but in 99.9% of circumstances, bringing along baby is cool.
4. Ask permission to bring siblings or extra guests
If you got past rule #3 and still want to bring your invited child’s sister or brother to the party, be sure to check with the host or hostess first. As we’ve mentioned, sometimes there’s an additional cost involved with having more kids at the party. Give the hosts the chance to either warmly embrace the additional party-goer or to politely say “no.” If you really want to win the hosts favor, offer to cover the additional child’s cost, if you think there will be one. Most likely they’ll decline your offer, but it’s kind and generous and will win you favor come party time.
5. Gifts should correspond to the number of guests in attendance
If you bring one child to a birthday party, you’re probably already planning on bringing one gift. If you are bringing a sibling or more, you should plan on bringing gifts that are equivalent to the number of children you’re bringing to the party. For example, if you buy a $20 gift normally for one child, you should buy two $20 gifts – or one $40 gift. If you prefer gift cards, then double up on the gift cards.
It’s really unfair and uncouth to bring multiple children to a party but only bring a single gift. (Yes, we’ve experienced this at all of my kids parties and it always makes me wonder what the parents were thinking. Even the family that brought their 5-year-old son and his two pre-teen brothers, without RSVP’ing for any of them, only gave our son one simple, small gift. I was befuddled, to say the least.)
6. Yes, your child HAS to bring a gift … or at least a card.
I can’t believe this has to be said, but it actually does. If your child attends another child’s party, they absolutely should bring a gift. If you don’t take your child to the event but your child attends the party with another child and his/her parent(s), your child still should bring their own gift. Under no circumstance should your child show up empty handed.
There are times when the invitation says “no gifts please.” In those circumstances your child does not need to bring a gift, but they should still bring a card. It can be store-bought or hand-made, but your child should still bring something for the guest of honor. A token, at least.
7. If you RSVP and something comes up, let the hosts know ASAP – and still send the gift
If you RSVP for the party but then your child falls ill or something else comes up at party time, be sure to notify the hosts as soon as possible that you won’t be able to attend. It’s normal for kids to get sick and nobody wants a contagious disease getting passed around at the party. Stay home, rest up, but do your best to alert the hosts before the event begins.
Then, after the event, be sure to connect with the hosts again, reiterate your regrets and be sure to still pass along the gift purchased for the guest of honor. It’s possible the venue still charged the hosts for your child even if they didn’t show up. It’s guaranteed that the guest of honor noticed their friend missing from the fun, too. Make sure to cover your bases. Tossing the hosts the intended gift is a smart gesture – plus, your child probably doesn’t need another Barbie doll or ninja-attack dinosaur.
Okay. That’s it. These are the basic rules of modern kids’ birthday party etiquette.
With these seven rules, you’ll not only survive the kids’ birthday party madness, but you’ll also be sure to get invited back next year. Good or bad, birthday parties are a big deal for kids. Some kids have them every year, others only get a big fiesta once in their lives. Be sure to treat the hosts, the guest of honor and all the kids with as much respect and appreciation as you hope to receive when you’re planning your child’s big day.
Did I forget anything? Are there other rules you want on the books? If so, please share them in the comments below!