When your child uses good manners, other people want to be around them. That’s why birthday parties are opportune events to teach children not only party etiquette but a graciousness that goes beyond rules. Whether your child is the host or the guest, you can make teaching children party etiquette fun. Stage a mock birthday party so that your child can role-play some of these helpful hints.
For hosts - If possible, you might consider inviting your child’s whole team or all of their classmates to the party. However, that doesn’t always work out so in that case, use snail mail or email invites and teach your child as much as possible not to talk about their party in front of children who aren’t invited - but be realistic. It’s hard to keep a preschooler or kindergartner from talking about a birthday party. If you start having discussions about being discreet when your child is young, they will handle this same situation appropriately when they are older.
For guests - It is disappointing when your child is not invited to a party, but disappointment provides an opportunity to coach your child through early letdowns in life. Explain that they may be invited to the next party. If your child does receive an invitation, teach your child to treat the matter with the same delicacy as the host.
Be Clear with Boundaries
For hosts - Human beings need boundaries. When we have boundaries, we feel more comfortable about the setting that we are in, so be clear about party guidelines in the invitation. Give a time, date, and location, and let parents know if the party is a drop-off party or if they should stay. Let them know if adults will be eating at the party, too. Sometimes parents are invited to have the main course (pizza, for example) and then a sweet treat. Sometimes they are just invited to have cake. You may also want to add a note about whether siblings may attend the party, as well.
For guests - If it is an at-home party, stay in the areas the host is in. Don’t go into other rooms without permission, and if a restroom is needed, ask which one is for guests. If the party is at an off-site venue, have your child follow all of the rules of the establishment. If the host doesn’t specify guidelines about the party in the invitation, never assume. For instance, don’t eat the food or cake or bring your entire family to the party (or even extra siblings) if you haven’t asked the host beforehand.
For hosts - Meet and greet each child as they arrive. Have the birthday host play with everyone so no one feels left out. Make an effort to include everyone and give everyone a chance at each game. Say good-bye and thank guests for coming when the party is over.
For guests - Let the host know that you are there. Make an effort to play with the host and other guests and not form cliques that exclude other party guests. When you are ready to leave, be sure to tell the host good-bye.
For hosts - Teach your child not to expect to receive gifts but if they do, compliment each guest’s gift and stay positive about every item, even if it is something your child already has or is something they don’t like. If you have decided to forgo gifts, state “No gifts, please” on the invitation or “Only the favor of your company is requested.”
Goodie bags aren’t necessary, and some parents may prefer their children not receive sugary candy and small plastic items to take home. Instead, your child could pick out a memorable item to pass out to each guest who attends. For example, if it is close to Christmas, your child could give everyone an inexpensive ornament.
If it is a spring or summer party, give out packets of flower seeds. A special memento is nice. My daughter’s favorite favor was a peacock feather she received at a kindergarten party she attended.
For guests - Unless the invitation says, “No gifts, please,” bring a gift. It doesn’t have to be expensive and can be handmade. Giving of your time is thoughtful and many parents will be grateful for this in place of another toy that has to be picked up on a regular basis. Consider making a card to add to the gift with a heartfelt message written by your child.
For hosts - Thank each and every guest for coming and for bringing a gift, no matter how big or small. The guest (and sometimes a parent!) has taken time out of an evening or weekend to attend a birthday party. Have your child write a thank-you note to send to the guest after the party. Use the same discretion when passing out thank-you notes as you did with invitations.
For guests - Remember to RSVP to the party. Be on time. If you find you are going to be late, call and let the host know. If you have to cancel, let the host know as soon as possible so they can rearrange their plans, if needed.
Birthday party manners are a gateway for graciousness as your child grows into a teen and eventually into an adult. Embrace the opportunity birthday parties present to teach your child proper ways to socialize, and hopefully there will be more special occasions to celebrate with friends as they grow.
Five Reasons Parents Choose a No-Gift Party
1. Minimalism. Some parents want to teach their children not to get carried away with consumerism. They teach their children to focus more on experiencing fun with friends instead of accumulating possessions.
2. Space. If a family with lots of children lives in a smaller home and more toys are brought in, it could make for very cramped quarters.
3. Imagination. Some parents want their children to develop their imaginations with only a few special toys instead of a room full of toys that get played with occasionally or never.
4. Charity. Maybe a parent thinks about the first three reasons and decides they would rather guests bring a donation of a canned good or other item for a local charity.
5. Consideration of other parents. During the preschool to upper elementary years, children will go to many birthday parties. With most children’s birthday gifts costing about $10 to $20, costs start to add up. For single parents or parents who are struggling financially, this can become a hardship for an event that is meant to be a celebration.
Our culture is a generous one in which it feels unfamiliar not to bring a gift to a party. But there are many valid reasons why the “No gifts, please” party is becoming a trend. Whatever the reason, it is best to respect the wishes of the host.
Janeen Lewis, M.Ed., is a freelance journalist, teacher, and mom. She has been published in several parenting publications.
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