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Top 10 Guide to Children’s Party Etiquette

I am guilty of having held birthday parties for my twins every year since their 1st birthday - even when they had no idea what was going on around them, I have enjoyed celebrating their special day with friends (arguably more mine than theirs for the first few years!)

Over the years it has changed from my friends with kids of a similar age, to children they have met at school or in various clubs and activities – they have started to make their own friends! Whilst this is great, with it comes more pressure not to upset any of these children or their parents with bad party etiquette – the unspoken rules that all parties seem to be run by and every parent seems to know but no one tells you, so…

Here is a helpful Top 10 Guide to Children’s Party Etiquette to help you host a memorable day for your little one and avoid any pitfalls.

1. Who to invite?

This is a difficult question and one where you may not be left to decide. Many schools have introduced a policy whereby all children in the class must be invited to a party – which could be upwards of 20 guests!

Many schools and pre-schools will allow you to invite your own choice of guests so long as you are mindful of the children you are not inviting. It is a good opportunity for your child to use some empathy around the children not invited. E-vites or email invites can be useful in this situation so as to avoid the children seeing who is and isn’t being invited. If you are using paper invites, then discretion should be used to either give the invites to the parents or for your child to hand them out when children are at their backpacks and can put them straight in. Some teachers may collect the invites from you and then discreetly give them to the invited children to put out of sight. It is a good idea to check with your child’s teacher to see what they prefer or if they have their own rules.

In terms of numbers, there is a general rule of thumb to invite your child’s age plus 1 – so a 5 year old would have 6 guests. This can give you a manageable number at the party, and ensure that your child gets to play with all the children. If you have many more people to invite then you could consider having other events – have a party for school friends, and then get other friends together for a picnic in the park, play date, pizza date or a movie to celebrate.

Picture source:

children's birthday party invitation

2. What to include on the invitation?

  • Childs name

  • Childs age (to help guests bring age appropriate gifts)

  • Venue name and address – plus any restrictions, parking information if needed

  • Start time and finish time

  • If you are providing a meal or light snacks, it can be useful to include this information

  • If it is a drop off party or if you expect parents to stay

  • Anything the guest needs to bring (costumes for a dress up party, towels and swimsuits for a pool party etc)

  • RSVP details – include a cell phone and an email address and your name. It is also a good idea to give a date you would like replies by.

3. Should you open gifts at the party?

Picture source:

children's birthday party ideas

There is a trend moving away from opening gifts at the party, and a number of factors which may influence your decision

  • Opening gifts in front of the whole party can help to teach your child to be gracious and thankful (even if they don’t like the gift), and opening them with the guest who gave it may help them to link the gift to the giver more easily and can give a lot of joy to the child who brought the gift.

  • If it is likely that your gifts will differ greatly in terms of size or value, then it may be better to open them later to save any embarrassment.

  • If you have a lot of guests at a party then young children may get bored before all the presents are open.

  • Know your child – if they are not likely to be gracious, then it may be better to open the gifts later when the guests have left!

  • Be prepared for duplicate presents and how you will deal with this if they are opened in front of guests.

4. How long should the party last?

This very much depends on the age of the child. For babies and toddlers, parties can be very overwhelming with high levels of excitement and anticipation that they don’t necessarily understand. For this reason 1 hour is usually long enough for them to have a good time, play and eat some cake without getting overtired or overwhelmed. It is also a good idea to hold the party in the morning so the anticipation doesn’t go on all day, and it also avoids nap time – 10am – 11am would be a good time.

As children get older – from 4 years they can manage a longer party – 1 ½ hrs or 2 hours.

When you are planning a time for the party think about what food you will be providing – if you are holding the party over a meal time be prepared to feed the children with something more substantial (pizza, BBQ, sandwiches etc). If you only want to provide snacks or cake then think about holding the party between meals 2-4pm for example. You may also want to consider when you want to serve food at the party – if your having food at the end of the party, make sure that the time works so your guests aren’t too hungry and irritable by that time.

5. Should I invite parents to come to my child’s party?

This very much depends on the age of the child. I would expect parents to supervise their child up to school age, unless they pre-arrange with you to drop off and you know the child well. Remember you will be busy at your own child’s party so having the extra help to watch the children is very useful – particularly if you have entertainment where they could get hurt – bounce house, trampoline etc.

Between 5 and 7 then I would expect most parents to drop off their children – but you should clarify this on your invitation or with the parents and make sure you are happy to be responsible for all the children. Some kids of this age may still like to have a parent present as reassurance.

Over 7 years most parents will drop off (unless they are your friends and are there for you too!).

6. Should I feed parents as well as children at my child’s party?

It is a good idea to provide something for parents if you think they are going to be staying at the party. This can mirror what you are doing for the children – snacks if it is between meal times, and maybe something more substantial if you are doing a meal for the children – (pizza, BBQ, sandwiches etc.)

7. Do I have to give goody bags?

Children do expect to leave with something as a thank you for coming to the party. Whether you agree with this or not (and there are different schools of thought on it), it is most definitely the way parties have gone over the years. Ideas for goody bags have got significantly better, and you can now do useful reusable bags with items that will last more than 5 minutes, or a gift such as a craft item or book. Alternatively you can send children home with an item they have made at the party or a sweet treat.

pirate party goody bag craft gift

Craft gift ideas for goody bags – Pirate Craft Goody Bag Set

8. Should I tip the entertainer at my child’s party?

Yes – you should tip in the same region as you would in a restaurant – 15-20%

9. Should my child send thank you notes?

It is important for children to understand where their gifts have come from, and appreciate that someone has put time, thought and money into getting them. A part of this appreciation is to make sure they show their thanks for each gift – whether it is a handwritten note, a card they have drawn if they are too young to write, an email, a video message or a personal thank you – an acknowledgement is important and will be appreciated by the guest (or the guests parents!)

10. What it siblings come to the party who weren’t invited?

When you are finalizing your guest numbers you should check exactly who will be attending – just the child, child and one parent, both parents, additional siblings. It is fine to say that you are working to restricted numbers and would prefer if siblings did not attend, but there may be childcare difficulties depending on the time of the party and the age of the children.

In my experience I always end up with at least one extra ‘surprise’ sibling turning up on the day. If you think this may happen then it is wise to keep an extra party bag/ table setting ready just in case.

Co-founder Mad Hatter Party Box, Sarah Boorman

Written by Sarah Boorman - Co-founder of Mad Hatter Party Box, Founder of Mad Hatter Party Food and mother of 7 year old twins - Amelia and Maya. Sarah was born in the UK and moved to California in 2013 with her family.

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