Children's Etiquette: Throwing a Birthday Party

Children's Etiquette: Throwing a Birthday Party

2nd August 2021

My Mother always went out of her way to be creative for our birthday parties. She loved themed parties and hosted many for our family members. One year she threw a fabulous outdoor picnic for me, complete with little wicker baskets and red gingham napkins and tablecloths. Another year, she was ahead of her time and threw a Disney-themed party, at which every child was given a classic Mickey Mouse mask. Putting this party together was no mean feat given that I grew up in Hong Kong in the seventies and Disney was yet to become the global empire it is today.

Looking back, I’ve inherited my mother’s passion for hosting. I’ll confess we both obsess over details, but more importantly, we simply want everyone to have a wonderful time. I learned from my mother what it means to be a generous of heart and that throwing a party isn’t about overindulging your child, but rather a thoughtful gesture towards others.

Sometimes kids can become overly focused on the presents or parents can get preoccupied planning the perfect party, but we mustn’t lose sight of the real reason we throw parties in the first place: to have a good time and celebrate with the people we care about. On a positive note, I’ve noticed a growing tendency for parents to scale back on these over-the-top parties. In fact, many of my young son’s friends’ parents ask that children do not bring presents.

There is much etiquette surrounding parties and the different rules for maintaining proper manners, such as when to send a thank-you card and how to respond to an invitation. We will discuss these, of course, but to me, one of the most important aspects is to make sure the party is a memorable affair for everyone. This means making sure that your child is well mannered and good natured, and that – if they are the host – they ensure everyone feels welcome at their celebration.


Even though 99% of party planning falls upon the parents, remember it’s still your child’s party. You can give out the best goody bags, but if your child is rude or misbehaves, the party won’t be a success. I would often remind my children to be courteous, to thank their friends for coming, and to make sure no one is ever left out. Once they feel that everyone is having a good time, they can then enjoy themselves.

Older children might have friends from different schools or camps, or from their sports teams, and it can be hard for them to balance having a variety of friends at their party. To help them out, I always stay around to ensure that every detail is in place, but also to supervise and check that everyone is happy. If one of the guests doesn’t seem to be having a good time, encourage your child to include them in a game or activity.


There are numerous rules floating around about how many people you should invite to your child’s birthday party. Some parenting experts suggest as many guests as the child’s age plus one. That works until the age of three or four, after which children usually want a larger party. My advice would be to work with your child on creating a guest list – and be realistic. It really all comes down to how many you can handle. Where will you throw the party? At home? If so, could you entertain a large group of rowdy kids in dress -up?

If you can’t accommodate an entire class and want to have only a handful of kids over, it isn’t considered rude not to invite everyone. Do teach your child to be considerate of others’ feelings though, and discourage them from bragging about a party when not everyone is invited.

First Birthday Party: This is an important birthday, but the party is for the parents, not the baby. You can also limit the guest list to close friends and family, as you don’t want to overwhelm your baby. Remember: this party is a special one, at which lots of pictures will be taken. I kept my children’s first parties relatively small – just four or five one-year olds in highchairs around a table. 

Preschool Party: For your preschooler’s birthday, you might have to invite the entire school class. If this is too overwhelming, consider throwing a party in class or having two separate parties – one for your child’s school friends and another for family and other friends.

Sleepover: Limit this to six children maximum! It’s not a case of the number of guests being a reflection of your child’s popularity, but rather a number you are able to control and handle. I find that it’s always best to stick with an even number, four is my ideal. Make it fun and be creative- your child will treasure the memories.


On average, a child’s party should last around two hours. As the host, you should indicate the drop-off and pick up time for both! Parties often include organized activities, and being late without alerting the host might throw off the party’s schedule. Whenever I hosted parties on a weekend, I would let the party run longer. It could be a lunch, say with pick up around 4:00pm.


Give other parents plenty of notice to RSVP. If you haven’t heard back from anyone, politely send a reminder with the date and say your just trying to get a head count for food or other special arrangements.


Every party should have food for the children, even if it’s just snacks; you want to be a good – and generous – host, after all. If you are hosting a party in between mealtimes, but sure to provide healthy nibbles in addition to the birthday cake. It’s now considered the norm to ask guests if they have any food allergies. Similarly, if your child has an allergy, alert the host and send the child with appropriate foods for them to eat.


Children should bring a gift to a party, unless otherwise specified on the invite. It is acceptable for the child whose celebration it is to open gifts at the party, but I would suggest doing this only when the child is old enough to control their emotions. If they are disappointed with a gift, they shouldn’t show it. Explain this to your child beforehand. A young child who has been taught not to lie might be confused by this idea, so let them know that in instances such as this, they need to be considerate of their friends feelings and not offend them. If they really don’t like the gift, you can talk about places to donate the present afterward. (I don’t suggest recycling gifts by giving them to another child for their birthday, as you might forget who gave you the present and it could end up back in the hands of the original child.)

If two people give your child the same gift, you are responsible for returning the gift, not the person who gave it. Gift cards are acceptable presents and are often the preferred choice for tweens and teens.

I love wrapping presents and have always gone out of my way to be creative, but it isn’t necessary to go over the top. As long as you demonstrate that you’ve given it some consideration, your efforts will be appreciated regardless of how elaborate the end result.


It is still customary to thank guests with a goody bag at the end of the party. Of course, it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, the simplest things can provide hours of entertainment. Gather a collection of simple toys like: pinwheels, bubbles, balloons, coloring books and of course to finish it off, a little bit of candy.


Thank you notes are an absolute must! It is important for two reasons; if someone has taken the time to choose a gift for your child, they deserve to be thanked. However, if you decided not to accept gifts or some guests attended without, it is still polite to say thank you for attending. The notes should be handwritten, ideally by the child and sent no later than two weeks after the party.

What are your tried and true tips for throwing kids birthday parties? Share them with us! 

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