It seems that since the rise of Pinterest, birthday parties have evolved into much bigger productions than the days of backyard barbecues with mom’s homemade cake. While I am still personally a fan of the smaller-scale parties, many families invest much effort and money into make these birthday parties extra special. With these more elaborate parties, though, come increased opportunities for guests and hosts to break the rules of birthday party etiquette.

In an attempt to help parents navigate the dos and don’ts of hosting and attending, here are a few of our suggestions for proper birthday party etiquette.

Do you really have to invite the whole class?

Host: No, you should stay within the realistic parameters of what works for your location, your budget, and your sanity. Many schools now do not allow invitations to be brought to school unless the whole class receives one. However, do not let this rule make you feel obligated to do so. There are ways to get in touch with other parents, such as class directories or the teacher, that will allow you to contact classmates outside of school. Some suggest the rule of the child’s age plus one to determine the appropriate number of guests.

Guest: Once invited, advise your child to not talk to other friends at school about the party. It can create a very awkward situation for the birthday child if word gets out to the class that there’s a party but others are not invited.

How much should be spent on a gift?

Host: Be prepared when parents are asking about ideas for presents to give a wide price range. Keep things topical in nature rather than specific to allow for many different budgets. For example, let attendees know that your child loves LEGO® sets instead of saying he wants a specific one that may be out of their budgets. Also, when considering the party favors you will be giving out, stick within your own budget (never underestimate a thoughtful homemade item) and purchase a few extras in case some kids show up who did not RSVP.

Guest: Tailor your gift to fit your family’s budget. You should not feel obligated to purchase more than you are comfortable doing, even if the birthday party is extravagant. Remind your child not to talk about how much was spent on the purchased gift or brag to others about it. If the birthday child is especially close to your family and you will be spending a significant amount on the gift, it may be best to give this to the child apart from the birthday party so as not to make the other guests feel uncomfortable.

Can parents and siblings stay at the party?

Host: The issue of parents staying and siblings being invited should be clearly addressed in the invitation. There are occasions when a child may not be able to attend unless the parent can leave and/or siblings can stay, so these contingencies should be addressed as a part of the invitation or when the parents RSVP. If parents are invited, provide a few adult food options and don’t forget them in the count for birthday cake portions.

Guest: Definitely clarify when you RSVP if you are needed to stay or if a sibling will be in attendance as well. If at all possible, avoid surprising the host with extra family members at the last minute. If you do stay, offer to help with serving, cleaning up, or helping with activities.

Should you open presents during the party?

Host: There are differing thoughts on this, but it is likely a safer move to avoid opening presents during the party. You never know how your child or other children will react to a “bad gift.” Opened toys run the risk of being lost or broken during the chaotic party, and feelings can be hurt when one present is obviously preferred over another. Waiting until after the party to open presents will also allow for a more organized way of keeping track of who gave what for thank you notes.

Guest: Sometimes, the guests at a party are just as excited as the birthday kid to open presents. Encourage your child to not ask for this or to push to have their present “opened first.”

Are thank-you notes still necessary?

Host: Yes. A thank you should be said in-person at the party and a follow-up thank-you note should be sent. With social media and online invitations being used so much, it is tempting to just push out a generic thank you to everyone who attended. However, a child learns valuable lessons through the process of writing thank-you notes.

Guest: Before leaving the party, always have your child make a point to thank the host for inviting them to the party and for any favors received.


Birthday parties are a fun and memorable way to make children feel special and loved, so be sure not to turn them into stressful affairs. Your child will appreciate the moments spent together and laughter shared much more than you stressing over birthday party etiquette or making it an over-the-top party. Keep these guidelines and suggestions in mind, and then focus on your child and making them feel special!

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