Birthday Party Etiquette

Even though I have two kids and my oldest will soon be turning four, I realize I am still a rookie when it comes to lots of parenting stuff. Sometimes it’s big stuff, like talking to my preschooler about how another kid said “I hate you” and sometimes it’s smaller stuff like birthday party etiquette. As my almost four-year-old’s birthday approaches, I am torn about what to do for her for a party.

In the past we’ve done backyard parties that consisted mostly of our adult friends and their kids. Since her birthday is right in the middle of summer and she’s not in daycare during the summers, we’ve kept it mostly to family friends with a few daycare people mixed in. Now that she’s in preschool, she’s been attending a lot of classmate’s parties. I do like the all or nothing rule (I think this is a thing) when it comes to inviting all their classmates.

Best part of having a backyard birthday party? Dog party hats!
Best part of having a backyard birthday party? Dog party hats!

So I’ll plan to invite her classmates plus our family friends. Do I have another backyard party or do I go for a destination party? This year all the parties we’ve been to have been at a location away from home like a kid’s restaurant, a bounce place, a nature center or an art studio. I’ve loved them all. There’s a lot to be said for paying a little more money to not have to clean your house before and after a party. But we’ve been so successful with our backyard parties, and she’s not asking for a bounce house party, so I think we’ll see if we can get away with a backyard party for one more year. In the past, we’ve also provided adult beverages for the adults. Now that parents I don’t really know will be attending, should we nix the beer?

On the subject of birthday party etiquette . . . I assume that parents of four year olds will stay with their kids right? I don’t need to specify that they should please, do I ? I wonder when you start dropping your kid off versus staying. I really like watching the kids all interact. And did you know that sometimes there’s food only for the kids and not for the adults? I had NO idea. I’ve been that jerk eating the kids’ pizza for the last four years. I’m so glad someone finally filled me in.

Oh, and can I request that people DON’T bring presents? Girlfriend has enough toys and trinkets. Is she too young to try to con her into asking for canned goods for the needy instead? It feels a little cruel to deny her presents, but I’ll bet if I told people not to bring them and didn’t even tell her, she wouldn’t even notice. You know what I love about the parties we’ve been to? The kids don’t open the presents at the party! There’s no comparing what people each got and there’s no focus on the material aspect of a birthday. It’s just all about having fun with your friends on your special day.

Then there are siblings. When is it ok to bring a sibling and when is it not? I used to just bring the baby along, but now that she’s not a baby, I suppose I need to get a babysitter so that people don’t have to pay for an extra kid to eat or play. All the more reason I think the backyard party is the way to go for us – the more the merrier and pizza for everyone!

What other birthday party etiquette things have you run into along the way and how did you handle them? What’s your best idea for a four year old’s birthday party? I’ve planted the idea in my daughter’s head that she’d like a rainbow themed backyard birthday party. I think I can pull that off and she seems excited about it. Bring it on Pinterest.

9 thoughts on “Birthday Party Etiquette

  1. My birthday party angst? RSVPs, or lack thereof!!!! Please, mamas, RSVP! That means, respond please! Either way, tell me if you’re coming, or if you’re not coming! That SVP in RSVPs, that is PLEASE in French. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE RSVP!

    Why, you ask? Why does it matter? Well, if it turns out the date is poor for the vast majority of guests, your prompt RSVP allows the host mama (or dad) to perhaps rearrange the time or day. It helps avoid the terrible occurrence of no one showing up for a poor kiddo’s party! It means if they goody bag crap is purchased in packs of 4, and 9 kids are invited but only 8 attending, the host mama doesn’t have extra goody bag crap that she’s paid for unnecessarily leftover after the party for her to step on, or have junking up her crap drawer. If you don’t RSVP, and one assumes you’re attending, but you’re not, you might be taking up space that another child could have used, for, say, a party at a local with a limit to the number of kids that can be included. But the number one reason why it matters that you RSVP is so you don’t look like a rude, insensitive, holier than thou, lazy slug who doesn’t care about other people’s feelings, time and money.

  2. Oh man. I haven’t thought of any of this yet. My daughter just turned 3 and we still haven’t done a birthday party … like, not even a family party. We just have a Dad/Mom/CP day, some cake, a few presents, and call it a day. I know that this was probably the last year that we could pull that off. In my opinion – for whatever that’s worth – you are such an awesome mom for even having all of this birthday party intel! And you are certainly not alone – I probably would be eating the kids’ pizza.

  3. An invite was just sent for my son that included “families welcome, just let us know how many and we’ll all have fun.” We loved that. This year (first grade), was the first that some parents stay, some leave. We are ok with both, but all parents asked and left phone numbers. Good luck!

  4. Suggest that friends bring baby or infants toys to donate to the hospital. When your daughter sees that they are “baby” toys she will be willing to give them away. I know hospitals are usually in need of infants toys/ mirrors/ mobiles.

    1. Love this! Only problem is that my daughter has a newfound interest in baby toys now that she has a baby sister. Go figure!

  5. I have a 3.5 year old, but was just at a 6 years old’s back yard party, which included school friends, and all the parents still stayed. No one brought siblings unless they were previously invited. I think if the parents don’t know you especially, they would not burden you with an extra child or the responsibility to watch their child. There was a table full of snacks that was for everyone, as well as drinks for all. I would personally think it would be rude to not feed all that are attending, child or adult. I would however nix the alcohol or save it for the friends that stay later. They didn’t bother opening presents in front of everyone either. Would definitely make sure there are a few different activities and crafts, as kids who get bored tend to wander…

  6. Oh wow I don’t know the answers to your questions!! We did a backyard party for our girls 3rd birthday – didn’t have a bouncy house or anything, just outdoor stuff like bubbles, a kite etc. and it seemed like the kids had a good time with each other. I’m kind of in the camp of trying to be low-key about birthday parties but it’s also really easy for me to feel that pinteresty-stress.

  7. It is easier once the kids are older. We did not invite the entire class or all the boys/girls but directly contacted parents of our son’s friends. Parties are still in the backyard and are for immediate family and close friends. Make the best decision for you and your family based on time, budget and space. It can be overwhelming when there are all the over the top parities.

  8. I experienced this dilemma just recently with my 6 yr old. It never occurred to me that the rules would change just when I finally figured it out. Apparently this is the age when parents start to leave their kids at a party, not all but some which left me with the question of what to do with the parents. Am I responsible for entertaining them as well? What are they expecting? I was completely stressed out about what to do and what kind of five course meal I needed to provide for the parents in the waiting area, when my husband reminded me that they would probably like to just hang out and play on their phones uninterrupted, you know quiet time. This was a parting of the skies revelation for me. Oh yeah these are parents just like me and they crave alone time as much as I do, duh!

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