Planning and hosting a birthday party gives your child an opportunity to learn good manners for kids through birthday party etiquette. But a child will only learn good social manners if the parents demonstrate those good manners for kids. Set the example your child needs when planning and hosting his birthday party and you’ll be giving your child a lot more than a party, you’ll be instilling life long social skills.
Who and How Many to Invite
Who and how many to invite may be the biggest stress of planning the birthday for children. But it doesn’t need to be if you follow some simple rules. First, this is your child’s birthday party. Although you want to teach your child to be kind to others, that doesn’t mean he has to invite every child in his class and all his first and second cousins. Let your child give you a list of who he wants to invite. Then invite only those children.
Life is full of disappointments and it’s not your child’s job to make sure every child he knows is protected from life’s disappointments, such as not getting invited to a party. It's also not a requirment that parents host and pay for a birthday party for an entire class of kids and all the family. If not all the kids he knows are invited, then use discretion when passing out invitations.
Now if you have a social child and you don’t want to put on a party for the entire class and all the first, second, and third cousins, then you may need to limit how many he can invite. A good rule of thumb is to invite one child for each birthday year. So if your child is turning eight, he can invite eight kids. Or you may limit the number of kids based on the limits set by the birthday party venue. Either way, discuss the limits on the number of invitees before the invitations go out. And make sure your child understands that he can’t continue inviting kids after the invitations have gone out. This includes verbal invitations during playground talk.
You may need to prep your child with what to say if the subject of his birthday comes up with a child not on the guest list. Give him statements he can use such as, “I’m sorry, I wish you could come, but my mom said I can’t invite any more friends” Or, “I’m sorry, I wish you could come, but the (insert name of party venue here) only allows x number of kids.” But encourage your child to not mention his birthday party to playground friends not invited to the party. Guest planning is a good for teaching children manners when it comes to teaching friendly gestures and discretion, as well as budgeting.
The child birthday invitations need to go out about two to three weeks in advance. If you need the birthday party guests to RSVP, you’ll need to clearly state that. And then you need to plan on 75% not responding to the RSVP note, as this may be the birthday party etiquette most often ignored. To increase your RSVP count, give more specific instructions, such as “Please respond with a yes or no by this date.” Also make it easy for parents to RSVP by providing an email address and cell phone number where parents can text their RSVP.
Gifts and Saying Thank You
Opening the gifts at the end of the party used to be the norm. But more recently, what was once a major event of the party, is being skipped all together. Instead the parents take all the wrapped presents and stuff them in the back of the car, often without another word about the presents. This latest twist on the children’s birthday gift giving is not modeling good manners for kids.
The guest child most likely spent time picking out a gift that he thought his friend would like. Watching the birthday child open that thoughtful gift is exciting and gratifying for the gift giver. Yet many parents purposely avoid this tradition because they are afraid their child will look greedy or show obvious disappointment at the gift in front of everyone. But skipping the gift opening and packing the unopened gifts into the car is not the way to show that your child is not greedy. In fact it tends to give quite the opposite impression. It makes it look like you collected an entrance fee to the party. And it doesn’t teach your child good birthday party etiquette when it comes to accepting all gifts with grace.
Opening the gifts at the party provides valuable social lessons for all involved. Yes, your child may open the occasional present and show obvious disappointment. It’s OK! He’s a kid and still learning the social graces. You can prep your child ahead to practice showing gratitude and accept all gifts gracefully because it’s the thought that counts. Teach him before and during the gift opening to pause after each gift and thank the gift giver directly. But if he slips up, you can model good manners for kids by thanking the gift giver yourself. The gift giver may be disappointed that his gift wasn’t a favorite, but that is also one of life’s lessons, to learn to accept disappointment gracefully. Sometimes teaching children manners is difficult, but avoiding the lesson won’t teach good manners for kids.
When Not to Open Gifts
There are times when skipping the gift opening is prudent. If your child invited 30 kids and all showed up, opening the 30 presents will take up too much time. Also, some party venues don’t include opening gifts as part of the party events. In these cases, it’s OK to pack up the presents, but it’s not OK to skip the thank you.
Since your birthday child wasn’t able to properly thank his friends individually for their gifts, he still owes a proper thank you. In these cases, good manners for kids is the same as adults. Work with your child to send a standard thank you card to every gift giver after the party. Another option is to send a personalized photo thank you card that includes a photo of your child opening the gift. Or you may want to save opening some gifts for when close friends come to visit your child later so they can see their present being opened and get an in-person thank you.
If you want to encourage your child to not focus on gifts at the party, but to instead enjoy the time with his friends, you can add a note to the invitation discouraging gifts. A common addition to such birthday party invitations is, "Your presence is the only present required.” Do expect some to still show up with presents, for which your child can then accept gracefully.
Yes goody bags are still an accepted child’s birthday party tradition. It’s a way to say, “Thank you for coming to my party.” But there are more options than the bag full of candy and cheap toys. Instead you can buy one larger item for each child that’s still inexpensive but higher quality.
Some ideas include a small puzzle, coloring book, book, small gift card to the venue, or buy prefilled party favor boxes for each child. You can also include a craft as part of the party and as the take home party favor. For good birthday party etiquette, have your child stand at the door, pass out a goody bag or party favor, and say thank you to every guest as they leave. To encourage your child, tell him it’s his job as the host and birthday boy (or girl). This will give him a responsibility he can take pride in and he’ll be practicing good manners without even realizing it.