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A Guide to Kids Party Etiquette

I belong to a local community of about 500 moms on my Facebook who ask questions, give and receive advice, and seek recommendations about all sorts of issues. One of the things that I have seen come up on several occasions are questions about kids parties. Since I have put on quite a few in my time as a planner, I decided to tackle some of the more common ones I have seen asked. Let’s call this Kid’s Parties FAQ’s.

Q: Invitation says no gifts but I am close to the child and want to get them something, what do I do?

A: By all means respect the parent’s wishes of no gifts if it is implicitly stated on the invitation. They likely have their reasons for not wanting them and have already discussed this with the birthday child so no worries that they will be disappointed. If you are particularly close with the child and would like for them to have something from you, reach out to the parent and ask if it is ok to bring a gift to the child, but not at the party! If you bring your “special gift” to the party and other parents see it they will feel bad about not bringing a gift anyway.

Q: Are party favors necessary when giving a party?

A: Some parents have expressed some incredulity that they seem to be giving a gift (favor) to a guest for coming to a party. While party favors have seemingly become the standard at parties these days, the answer is no, they are not necessary. There is no rule that says party favors have to be given. With that being said, some hosts like to give a little trinket with their thank you, and some like to go all out with a nice favor that coordinates with the theme of the party. Whatever feels right to you as a host is the right answer. One word of advice on the subject of favors. I have heard numerous parents complain about the little bag of cheesy favors that include nothing but random pieces of junk that end up all over the floor at home after the party. I would advise that if you are going to give something, make it something fun, edible, or useful. For the same amount you would spend on that bag of random toys, you can find a cute pencil and eraser set that will actually be used, or a little decorated sugar cookie that the child can save and eat later!

Q: At what age is it acceptable to drop off your child at a party as opposed to staying?

A: This is a tricky one. I would never suggest dropping off a child younger than 6 unless the hostess says it is ok. Younger kids can sometimes be harder to maintain when there are in a group setting. Always go with the intention of staying and wait for the parent of the birthday child to tell you it is ok to leave them and come back. Never assume you can drop off your young child without checking that it is ok.

Q: If you are invited to a party and can’t attend, should you still send a gift?

A: This is more of a personal choice. Sometimes in the school setting I know that everyone in the class has to be invited if you give out invites at school. You likely know that not every child will show up, or that the boys may not show up to a Princess themed party or that the girls may not show up to a John Deere party (you never know though). I wouldn’t expect a gift from kids who could not attend. An exception might be if your child couldn’t make it to a close friends party and you wanted to send a gift anyway.

Q: I am hosting a party but don’t want to serve food, is it ok to just have cupcakes and drinks?

A: It depends on the time of day. If you are hosting a party over lunch time (11-1) or dinner time (4-6) the expectation is that there will be a meal served. After all if the guests were not at your party they would more than likely be eating at that time. Anytime outside of there and you are free to go with just dessert. It is a personal pet peeve of mine when my kid comes home from a party at 6:30 and is hungry and says they only had cake!

Q: How much do I spend on a gift?

A: This is another thing that is personal, but I would suggest no more than $20 for a child’s gift. There have been plenty of times that I have found very cool gifts for around the $10-$15 range. By the time you buy a card (although this mom thinks homemade cards are the best), and a gift bag and paper (also keep those, they are reusable) you are up to about $20 anyway. Another tip is if I see something on clearance somewhere that I think would be a cool gift, I pick them up and hold on to them. They always come in handy when you remember your child has a party to attend at the last minute!

Q: If we are having a party at a place where we have paid per child attending and have requested the parents stay with their kids, are we obligated to feed them as well?

A: As the host of the party, if the parents need to stay with their kids then they are technically guests and there should be enough to at least offer. For example, at places where there is pizza for the kids I would suggest adding on an extra pizza, veggie tray and pitcher of water to offer the attending parents.

Q: Should siblings of invited kids go to the party?

A: No, not even if they are twins, unless the other sibling is specifically invited. The host has provided food, drink, activities, and favors for the number of kids invited. To spring an extra kid on them is unfair to the host who then feels like they have to provide the same things to the additional kid. Also, if the host is not prepared for the additional child then the child feels left out. The only way around this is to ask the host well before the party (not one hour before, at least one day before) if it is ok for a sibling to attend. And DO NOT be offended if the answer is no!

Q: Should we open gifts at the party?

A: I will tell you why I don’t. We did it once a long time ago when my now 10 year old was turning 3 or 4. It took way too much time, it turned into a madhouse of kids pushing to get to see the gifts and point out what they brought, and in my opinion it put too much focus on the gifts. Since then we have taken all the gifts home and opened them as a family, being sure to keep track of who brought them for thank you cards.

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