Birthday Party Etiquette for Kids and Parents

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Kids birthday parties are joyful, loud, and often chaotic celebrations, in the best possible way. They are also an excellent opportunity to practice our manners. Birthday party etiquette extends beyond just saying “Please” and “Thank you,” and when both kids and parents are involved those good manners make sure the party is enjoyable for everyone.

Both you and your kids are expected to act a certain way at a birthday party. For young guests this means learning not to complain if they find the party boring or the food not to their liking. For the birthday child, it’s learning to write thank you notes after the party. For you as the parent, birthday etiquette includes knowing how much to spend on a birthday gift, or how to handle it if you don’t plan to invite the entire class.

Everyone has their own idea of what proper birthday party etiquette is. Whatever you decide to practice, it’s important to teach your kids to think about their manners at birthday parties, and exercise good party manners yourself. Below are some guidelines for both you and your kids, whether you are attending a birthday party as guests or hosting the celebration.

Basic Birthday Etiquette Principles

The most essential principles of birthday party etiquette are pretty basic manners, especially for kids. Being polite can go a long way in social situations in other people’s homes, and it’s important that children know these rules to help a party go smoothly. Here are some of the basic manners that children should use when attending a birthday party:

  • Say “Please” and “Thank you”
  • When you need someone’s attention, say “Excuse me”
  • Ask permission to touch or have something
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to help, and if there is, do so
  • If the birthday party food is not to your liking or the activities are boring, keep that to yourself
  • Put the cell phone down, unless it’s to quickly text/call your parents or to briefly take a photo with your friends
  • Your “job” as a birthday guest is to make sure the birthday honoree has a great time! 

Young guests are not the only ones who need to practice appropriate etiquette, however. It’s also important for the host and birthday child to follow similar rules as well as a few others specific to hosting:

  • Thank your guests for coming when they arrive and when the leave
  • Offer guests something to eat or drink after exchanging greetings
  • Consider any kids party accessibility accommodations your guests might need before they arrive
  • Make sure all your guests feel included in any activity, if they want to be included

Etiquette Rules for Birthday Party Invitations

Many factors need to be considered when planning a kids birthday party. Top of mind is who should I invite? How many people should I invite? Do I need to invite the whole class? Ultimately, these choices are up to you and your kid. When it’s time to send first birthday invitations, don’t feel pressured to invite other babies for your baby to interact with. The first and second birthdays are really more for parents and close family to celebrate, and the babies aren’t going to remember the party. 

When it comes to the number of guests, consider the space you have for hosting the birthday and your budget. According to the Girl Scouts it is totally acceptable to only invite a small portion of the class or team if you need to, just be courteous about the way you do it. Instead of handing out invitations in class, send online invitations. There are many benefits of digital party invitations, including that they are discreet.

Send the invitations 1-3 weeks before the event to give a fair amount of time for the guests to respond. On the birthday invitation, make sure to include if siblings are allowed or not, or if the parents should plan to stay for the duration of the party or just drop-off. Ask parents to let you know about any dietary or mobility restrictions so you can plan accordingly. 

RSVP Tips for a Child’s Birthday Party

You’ve received an invitation to a child’s birthday party, now what? Here are some tips for birthday party guests to help you RSVP in a considerate manner:

  • Read the entire invitation promptly, rather than the day before or day of the party
  • Be sure you understand all of the details of the invitation
  • Ask the host questions if you are concerned about drop-off/pick-up times or if you are allowed to stay
  • If your child has dietary or accessibility restrictions, let the host know so they can prepare in advance
  • Do not ask if siblings are allowed; if it is not stated on the invitations, then the answer is typically no
  • RSVP as soon as possible so the host does not have to hunt you down for a response

If you cannot attend the party, consider sending virtual birthday cards with best-wishes for the birthday child after you RSVP no.

How to Decline a Child’s Birthday Party

Need to decline the invitation your child received to a classmate’s or friend’s birthday party? Sometimes you may have a prior engagement to go to or you are going to be away. That is perfectly fine, just remember to be polite when declining. In any situation, don’t feel you need to make up an excuse. Be direct about your reason for declining or simply say “I’m afraid we won’t be able to make it, but thank you so much for the invitation!” If you need to change an RSVP last-minute (something to avoid whenever possible), pick up the phone and call the parent of the birthday child to explain.

Children’s Birthday Gift Etiquette

Here’s the big question that comes up after being invited to a child’s birthday party: What do I get as a gift? If you already know the child well, this probably will be fairly easy to answer. However, if you’ve never met the child, what would be an appropriate gift to get? How do you determine what to get? If the child is under 5, books are a popular and suitable choice. When in doubt, ask the host. They can give you some insight into their child’s interests. 

As the host of a kid’s birthday party, consider including gift ideas on the invite to help out your guests, but be very careful with your wording. Some etiquette experts will caution you about including a wishlist on a birthday invitation. Instead of suggesting specific gifts, be more general: “Kyla loves books & board games!” You can also consider sharing this information after a guest RSVPs yes. 

How Much to Spend on a Child’s Gift

We all know the cost of birthday gifts can add up. So what is a reasonable price to spend for a child’s birthday? For the most part, anything in the $20-$30 range is a safe bet. Feel free to spend a little more if it’s a child you know well. If you want to spend less than that amount, that is fine as well. If the gift is meaningful or something the child will use, the price isn’t all that important. Spend the amount that fits your budget.

As a kids birthday host, if your child receives an expensive gift, don’t try to give it back saying that’s too much. Accept it gracefully and emphasize to your child that this gift is special and they should be very thankful.

Birthday Cake Etiquette

The birthday cake is one of the best parts of the party and all kids are excited to get their slice of cake. Remind your kid about the importance of waiting their turn to receive the cake and to avoid asking to have a piece of cake. If they don’t like the cake or it’s not the flavor they wanted, the best thing to do is to keep that thought to themselves, and to thank the host for the cake anyways.

When you host a kids birthday party, classic vanilla or chocolate cake are a solid choice for flavors. Also, keep in mind any food allergies that guests might have. Gluten, dairy, and egg allergies are some of the more common allergies, and there are plenty of recipes and bakeries out there that accommodate these allergies. Discuss with the birthday child ahead of time whether they will get their piece of cake first (it is their birthday after all!) or whether they’ll help serve their guests first before getting their piece of cake (a good lesson in playing host). 

Writing a Thank You Note for a Child’s Birthday Party

Proper birthday party etiquette continues after the birthday party. Get your child to write thank you notes. This is an excellent practice. Check out some tips for thank you note etiquette and tips for thank you note wording. Let kids be creative and determine the wording of their thank you notes. It makes it more genuine and personal for the gift giver. 

At the end of the day, birthday parties are FUN. With good birthday party etiquette, you will show that you care for others, ensure everyone has a wonderful time, and you will have a successful party that everyone will enjoy!

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