Allspice Chronicles

Entertain like a Queen, Think Lean and Live Green! A personal collection of recipes,anecdotes,and good old fashioned advice…

Etiquette and the Birthday Bash

by Danica Waters

If ever there was a hotbed for potential etiquette nightmares, the birthday party is IT.  Here’s what you need to know about Etiquette and the Birthday Bash:


(Oh, and BTW:  most of this information is directed towards children’s parties, as they are sadly, but typically, the most politically-charged.  All of the information will easily carry forward to adults’ parties, as well…)


On the subject of Invitations:


How many people should I invite?  Of course, when it comes to a birthday celebration, most kids want to invite everyone they know.  This will never be a comfortable situation, as you, the parent, are put in the unenviable position of needing to balance your sanity, your budget, and the feelings of the 20 other friends or schoolmates who may or may not receive an invitation.  Here are some things to think about:

    • Age:  A good way to avoid an overwhelming situation (for both you and your child!) is to invite as many children as your child’s age – plus one.  So if your child is turning six, invite seven children to the party.  This way the small child will not be overwhelmed, and with every passing year they’ll learn to handle bigger and bigger crowds.
    • Budget:  Do yourself and your child a favor, and get real about your budget.  It’s really easy to feel like you need to “Keep up with the Joneses” – and the peer pressure can be brutal.  But giving in to that kind of mentality ties your child’s esteem to things that are unreal, and sets a potentially dangerous precedent in their future approach to money management.  Respect your budget, get creative, and remember that sometimes the simplest approach is the most effective.
    • Location:  Lots of guests in a tiny indoor living space is a recipe for disaster, no matter what their age.  It will be much easier to host a larger crowd in a larger space such as a park, gymnasium, or large back yard.
    • Your Time and Energy Level:  Don’t. Underestimate.  Anything.  Ever.  Sure you’re going to meet that drop-dead work deadline, be back in time to clean the house, do the shopping, put up the decorations, bake a cake, prep the party fare, actually take a shower and look like June Cleaver by the time the guests arrive 24 hours from now.  Mmmmm-hmmmm…..  Be kind to yourself; save your sanity and understand that there are many ways to make a celebration special.  Look for the solution that allows you to gracefully get to the point of it all:  celebrating the birthday boy/girl.


What about the kids who didn’t get invited?

Lots of parents worry about making children feel “left out” if they don’t receive an invitation to the celebration.  On the flip side, it is easy to feel like you or your child will have some explaining to do to all the other folks who were not on the list of invitees.  This is not fun for anybody, and sadly, it can turn into a political tit-for-tat on the part of children and parents alike.  But there are ways you can minimize or avoid these situations:

Bring treats to the classroom / team.  Approach your child’s teacher/coach and ask if you can bring a special treat for the whole class/team to share.  Sometimes a couple of pizzas and some juice go a long, long way towards making everyone feel included, and it teaches your child that giving is usually even more fun than receiving.

Be discreet.  If you’re having a smaller party, teach your child the art of discretion and consideration for others’ feelings.  Some children will see their party- or their invitation to a party – as an opportunity for a power play; teach them early-on that this isn’t the right approach.


What information should be included on the invitations?

Online services like make sending invitations paperless and easy.  Should you choose to send invitations through the mail, they should include the following information;

–         The type of party being given;

–         For whom the party is being given;

–         Date (include the day of the week and the date!);

–         Time (give both a specific start time and end time, and if your event requires a very specific start or pickup time, such as at a theater, include the word “sharp” after the times.  If you’d prefer parents not to stay for the party, simply insert the words “drop-off” and “pick-up”prior to the requested times;

–         Location (include the complete address, name of the facility, if applicable, and directions or cross-streets if there’s room);

–         Contact telephone number at your home or at the venue, and your cell number.

–         Suggested attire:  Will their child need a swimsuit and towel?  A paint smock?  Clothes for muddy or messy activities?

–         Food provided:  This is really helpful for parents to know, especially if the party time is close to a normal mealtime.  If you’re just doing cake, specify that.  It’s also prudent to ask parents to notify you of any food allergies or other special needs their child may have when they RSVP.  Better safe than sorry!

–         Specify how you’d like your guests to RSVP, and do include a deadline of no later than about a week before the party.  The most common RSVP formats include:

      • RSVP to Dinah at [phone number] or [email].
      • RSVP by June 1 to Dinah at [phone number].
      • Kindly respond to Dinah Johnson at [phone number].
      • Please reply to Dinah Johnson at [phone number].
      • Regrets only, to Dinah at [phone number]. (Please note that “regrets only” means that you only want people to call if they cannot attend. You assume everyone else is coming.)

How to handle RSVP’s:

Most parents will RSVP by the requested date; however, sometimes things fall through the cracks and folks forget.  Don’t hesitate to call potential guests to see if they’re coming;  never assume their child won’t attend simply because you haven’t heard back.

If you’re the guest, be sure to RSVP promptly.  Your host/ess will need an accurate head count to make appropriate plans.

In the event your child has food allergies or special needs, let the host/ess know ASAP, and kindly offer to bring something to accommodate your child.  Be sure to bring enough for others to sample!


What is the best time for a children’s party, and how long should it last?

”For babies and toddlers up to three years old, when naptime is still a consideration, a one-hour party is long enough. When children are four to seven years old, plan on one and a half hours for the party. By the time children are eight to eleven years old, they can easily handle a two-hour party. Children twelve and up can entertain themselves to some extent, so they will likely want an evening party or sleepover.

The best time of day to have a baby or toddler party is probably 10:00am–11:00am. This lets you work around nap time, and is long enough for some free play and cake. As children get older, parties are usually from 1:30pm–3:00pm or 2:00pm–4:00pm. This gives plenty of time for games, snacks, and cake.” (

If you would like parents to stay at the party as chaperones:

The general rule of thumb is that parents should stay to chaperone their child if they are under the age of five. Feel free to make your need for assistance clear by adding wording on the invitations asking that the invited child come with one parent. Be sure to confirm the parent’s attendance when he/she RSVP’s.
How to address the invitations/envelopes:   Address each invitation to the person being invited. If you’d rather little Mary attend without her brothers and sisters, simply address the envelope to Mary Johnson.   If you look forward to having an entire family attend, address the invitation to “Mary Johnson and Family”, or to “The Johnson Family”.  The words “Siblings Welcome” inside the body of the invitation works, as well.


On the subject of party games and activities:

The biggest rule of thumb here is to let the children set the pace of the party.  You may have a lineup of the most fantastic games the world has ever known, but the fastest way to ruin a good party is to force kids to play them.  More often than not, you’ll find party-goers completely engrossed in simply playing together.  However, it’s always good to have some planned activities or crafts ready to go in the event of an impending meltdown.
What about competitive party games?

“Laurie Wrigley, founder of Birthday in a Box, adds this great advice:

“On the subject of competition, I think that children four and under are probably too young for competitive games in which there is a single winner or players are eliminated. While most may be able to handle it, there may be one or two who cannot. Instead, I would advise that each young child be given a participation prize or be made to feel like a winner. For instance, with a musical game, the adult can ensure everyone wins by stopping the music appropriately. Or, if there is a broad range of ages, you may want to pair younger children with an older partner or an adult who can share in the win or loss.”

    • When planning party activities, always add two more games or crafts than you think you will need. These extra ideas will rescue you on the party day if the children finish a game more quickly than you expected. For a toddler party, it is generally accepted to let the kids play freely most of the time, so one or two games are all you will need.
    • For other age groups, plan 3-5 crafts or games if your party will last one-and-a-half hours. For a two-hour party, you will need 4-6 activities.

Don’t push the children to finish a game that they are enjoying. If you’ve hit upon a winner, the kids may want to play it again! Forget about getting through your entire list of games, and let the party flow at its own pace.” (


On the topic of behavior – and misbehavior:

Set clear expectations without being “preachy”: 

Communication and preparation based on kindness and empathy are worth their weight in gold.  Let’s face it:  kids don’t know  good party manners from a hill of beans until they’re taught.  Be a good parent: talk to your child before the party about your basic expectations, rather than chiding them for poor manners in front of their guests.  Good things to start out with include:

–         Saying hello to each guest as they arrive, even if you’re playing with someone else;

–         Being friendly to everyone;

–         Saying “Thank You” to each guest for the gift they brought;

–         Saying “Thank You” and “Goodbye” to each departing guest.


A great way to prepare children for social success is to play-act with them.  Like anyone, children learn more from and are better able to appropriately react to situations or personalities they’ve previously been exposed to. Try to teach through illustration; turn into the infamously evil Nelly Olson from Little House On The Prarie for a few minutes.  Then turn into the much more kind Laura Ingalls, and let your child decide which personality she would prefer to emulate.  This is a fun way to offer a gentle behavioral reminder during the party, too.  If your child shows signs of veering in the wrong direction, all you have to do is ask, “My, did I hear Nelly in the room?”  No one else will have a clue as to what you’re talking about, and your child will get the message without feeling put on the spot.  Furthermore, if your child happens to have unwittingly invited a “Nelly” to the party, that little code word can go a long way to let them know that you are seeing the offending behavior from the guest and that your child is not alone.


Managing the Meltdown:

Birthday parties are huge, overwhelming things for children.  The excitement and anticipation builds up for weeks beforehand. On the day of the event, sugar mixes with all that adrenaline like a powder keg waiting for the opportunity to explode all over the place and the chance of a complete emotional meltdown is drastically increased for child and parent alike.  Just remember:


–         Keep your cool.  Your job is to calm your child down and get him/her back to the party as quickly as possible.  Sometimes that may entail your needing to move them to a quiet, secluded area for a bit until they calm down.  Just explain to the other party goers that Mary needs a quiet minute and quickly divert their attention by starting up a new activity or game.  Mary will come around quickly enough, and when she does, welcome her back and get her into the activity quickly and seamlessly.

–         Master the art of redirection. Sometimes your guests will be the ones with the behavior issues.  It’s always a good idea to have another adult at any party to help out; if the misbehaving child’s parent is in attendance, feel free to ask him/her to help the offending child through their issue.  If you’re the one who has to step in, try to stay positive.  Try not to make the child feel as though you’re attacking him/her; simply say something like, ‘It’s been a big day, hasn’t it?  Why don’t you come with me and we’ll get you something cool to drink?”  At this point, offer something sugar-free, like a glass of milk or water.

If wild and unruly behavior is the problem, try enlisting the child’s assistance in helping you set up for the next activity.  Usually a newfound sense of purpose will turn even the most out-of-control kid into a prince/ss.  However, if the child is just being plain mean to others, do not hesitate to contact his/her parents if the situation seems to be beyond your control.


On the subject of Gifts:


Should gifts be opened during or after the party?

The debate rages on as to whether it’s best to open gifts during the party or leave them until after the guests have departed.  A good rule of thumb is to base your decision on the size of the party; if you have fewer than ten, it’s a good idea to open them during your event.  However, during larger gatherings, the process of opening gifts can be a bit boring for the guests.  Follow your gut.


There is a chance that your child might be crushed if they don’t have the chance to see the recipient open their carefully-chosen gift.  If you think this is the case, general consensus says you should speak up, and ask if the host/ess would mind if the recipient opened the gift prior to your child’s departure.


Sometimes, simply structuring the party so that gift-opening is left for last ensures that everyone has a great time, and all the bases are covered.


No matter which direction you go, be sure to make a list of all the gifts and note who they came from so that Thank You Notes can be sent accordingly.


What if the invitation requests “no gifts”?  Shouldn’t I still bring something?

“No gifts” means NO GIFTS.  To bring something to the event might embarrass the host and the other guests, alike.  If you feel you must give the birthday boy/girl a special something, do it at another time and place.



And, finally, on the subject of Thank You Notes:


Yes, they are absolutely, 100% necessary.  Explain to your child how his/her friend took the time to choose a nice gift, and, even if the gift wasn’t a favorite, or was a duplicate, the friend should still get a “thank you” for his time and consideration.  The note doesn’t have to be long; it should, however, thank the giver for coming to the party, mention the gift and say something nice about it.  Thank you notes are best written right after the event; however, try to send them no later than two weeks after the party.


Here’s to many happy Birthday  Bashes for years and years to come!

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Posted in Allspice Chronicles and Birthday Etiquette and Birthdays and Children's Birthdays and Danica Waters and Etiquette Emergencies and Special Occasions by danica on July 19th, 2011 at 2:10 pm.

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