Booked Parties

Birthday Party Etiquette 101: The Children’s Edition

As one conjures up the images of the idyllic children’s birthday party, sumptuous cake, pin the tail on the donkey, multi-colored balloons and the sounds of laughter come to mind. In reality, these events often become characterized by chaos, the sounds of crying and accusations made by guests claiming a lack of fairness. Furthermore, the people who are in attendance at these events are typically of the less than rational variety. From the moment those invites are sent, an array of sensitive circumstances can arise that make us question why we didn’t just host a small, family party.

We consulted with our panel of Booked Parties experts to ask the hard-hitting questions and ensure that you don’t offend the entire community at your precious child’s next bash.

Do we really have to invite the whole class?

There is a saying, “If you don’t have enough for the whole class, no one can have any.” In the birthday party game, there is a delicate balance between preventing children from feeling alienated and keeping invitations to a manageable number. Seasoned events professional, Lauren Malang Stanco from LCR Events, offers advice, saying, “You do not have to invite the whole class. Oftentimes, venues themselves like Build-A-Bear Workshop and video game trucks enforce a capacity that the host needs to manage to. And, between the cost per person and favors, inviting the whole class can just become financially crazy. I recommend limiting invites to those your child is truly friends with – that usually cuts down the class list significantly.” Booked Parties’ own Claire Gilvar concurs with Lauren, saying, “Inviting a whole class to your child’s party can get expensive, so do what’s right for your family and what you can afford.”

Both Lauren and Claire, however, emphasize the importance of keeping it kind. Claire says, “Just make sure your child is mindful not to discuss the party at school.” Lauren’s expert tip? “Keep it tactful by ensuring that it’s not all but one or two children in the class that aren’t invited and definitely do not send invitations in backpacks! I am a big proponent of mailing hard copy invitations.” Don’t fret as this challenge is a short-lived one as Claire points out, “By second grade it becomes the norm not to invite the whole class.” The madness associated with the giant birthday parties of youth will soon be a thing of the past.

What’s the appropriate amount to spend on a gift?

Gayle Szuchman of Events by Gayle tackles this topic, which she admits is “a hard one that can give rise to an ethical dilemma.” She cautions against basing gifts upon whether or not the event is an extravagant affair and recommends letting one’s relationship and connection with the host set the guidelines. Gayle expands upon that saying, “There is no set formula. Go with your heart, make a personal decision and give what you can. Gift cards are always a good gift if you don’t know the recipient well, but it’s worthy of a conversation with other parents if it’s comfortable to get advice on what’s appropriate.” To further put parents at ease, Gayle reminds us that “for children, it’s more the excitement of the gift itself rather than the value. Children truly don’t and shouldn’t judge a gift by its monetary amount.

The RSVP date is gone with the wind. How should I handle non-responders?

With all events, hosts must be prepared for the unexpected. Typically, the RSVP date comes and goes and there are a handful of guests who have simply neglected responding. Gayle acknowledges that this is a common haphazard of the event business, adding, “This happens all the time, even for larger scale events such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and it does present a problem related to managing numbers associated with food and staffing.” In an effort to preempt this situation, Lauren recommends staying ahead of the curve, saying, “I start by following up with guests a few days before the RSVP date with a gentle text or email. If that doesn’t solicit a response, I assume they will not be joining, but am prepared by erring on the side of caution with extra food and favors because we all know there is a slight chance they may surprise us!” Gayle adds sage advice, “If a guest has not followed etiquette, as a host you unfortunately need to move on and focus your efforts on those who have RSVP’d.”

What should I do when a parent asks if a sibling can join their child at my child’s event?

We’ve all been placed in the awkward position of a frantic parent reaching out to ask if they can bring an invitee’s sibling to a birthday party. Lauren recommends sidelining these situations by offering an alternate solution, explaining, “If the event is at your home and you have a relationship with the individual, it can be acceptable for the sibling to join. If this is not the case, however, I might offer to bring the invited guest to the party myself or try to find another way to make it work for the parent.” Despite best efforts, there are instances when no solutions are available and Lauren says, “in that case, don’t be afraid to say no and let them know that the event is at capacity.”

I’m hosting a drop-off party and the guest list has turned into a pack of wild animals. Can I discipline them?

As our children age into drop-off parties, we sign on to the potentially daunting task of overseeing a massive group. Though there have been reports of birthday parties where all in attendance were perfect, well-behaved angels, it’s a rare event to witness. Claire’s parents became seasoned professionals at dealing with these situations. She explains, “My parents always hosted our kiddy parties at home and saved this game ‘Dead Fish’ for the grand finale. Everyone had to lie very still on the floor and those who moved were out.” Claire extends this brilliant method to her own parties today. She says, “I always plan some wind down activities whether it’s hot potato, letting everyone burn off some energy by running outside or some other type of wind down or quiet activities.” This enables the host to avoid the awkward position of disciplining other people’s children, which she notes, “can also detract from your own child’s celebration.”

The major takeaway is to plan your child’s next birthday with realistic expectations, understanding that you are about to enter several hours that may see triumph and tears, challenges and successes, highs and lows. Stay strong and remember the advice of our pros. You’ve got this!

Shauna Levy is a writer, communications professional and stay-at-home mom. Her interests include flaunting her discount shopping finds, cooking food her children reject and restoring her 125-year old home. She is currently raising her three boys, ages 9, 6 and 4 alongside her husband in Chappaqua, NY.

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