Birthday Party Etiquette FAQs
Solve sticky party dilemmas with expert answers to your pressing questions.
Want to be a host or party-goer that Miss Post would approve of? These are some of today's popular party dilemmas solved by leading etiquette experts and parents who've been there.
Do I have to invite everyone in my child's class?
No. But you should try to be discreet about it. Assemble the guest list with your child; she'll have a good idea about her class' social dynamics. Drop off or mail the invitations — don't let your child distribute them in class — and discourage her from talking about the party at school.
We "should" invite more kids than I can handle at the party. What should I do?
Plan a play date or outing at another time with different groups of kids. For example, if your 1st grader has friends from school and a soccer team plus a few cousins, limit the party to the school friends and family, then plan an outing to a pizza parlor or sporting event with the team for a separate day.
Can I call people who don't RSVP to find out if they're coming?
Absolutely. Don't let others' bad manners spoil your party. On the other hand, don't use the phone call as an opportunity to share an etiquette lesson. Find out what you need to know and save any snide remarks until after you've hung up the phone.
Are competitive games a bad idea?
Not necessarily. They've stood the test of time, most kids know the rules, and they're fun. The key is to make sure no one goes home empty-handed, and that the winners' prizes aren't outrageous, like that one special toy everyone wants to have.
One of the guests is being a complete brat. What should I do?
Be as positive as you can be. The combination of excitement and sugar can be too much for some kids. Try to distract the child with a task or make him feel special with extra attention. If other parents are there, you could ask one of them to take him under her wing. If niceness fails, pull him aside and warn him that you'll have to call his parents to take him home if he won't behave.
What should I do with my other child during the birthday party?
Siblings can present a challenge at a party. Sometimes the best option is to plan a day for your other child with a friend somewhere else. However, if a sibling will attend the party, invite a friend of hers to keep her entertained. Avoid letting an older sibling simply stay in her room during the party — it can encourage bad manners and contribute to jealous feelings.
What if my child hates a present?
This problem can be neatly circumnavigated by not opening gifts at a party. The trend is toward that anyway — it saves time, guest jealousy, and protects everyone from the embarrassment of your child's true reaction to an unwanted present.
My child received four identical gifts. Can I ask other parents for the receipts so I can exchange them?
Not really. Practical parents may include a gift receipt with the package. If you know the person well you may be able to discuss it without offending her, but it's better to err on the side of politeness. Many stores will accept a return for store credit without a receipt, so try that first. But if that doesn't work, stash it on the shelf for a spare in case the first one breaks.
Are thank-you notes necessary?
Absolutely. It teaches responsibility, politeness, and consideration for others, as well as gives your child an excellent writing and creativity exercise. The notes don't have to be long or detailed, but should thank the gift-giver for their attendance at the party, their gift, and mention something specific she likes about it.
I'm accompanying my child to a party. What should I do when I'm there?
Let the host set the tone. Offer to help, but if she says no, leave her alone. If she doesn't give you specific directions, act as a helpful — yet unobtrusive — chaperone. Be sure to ask before you use anything, especially the stove, changing table, highchair, etc. Also, keep consistent with the host's rules and exercise common sense to help protect the guests and party area.