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.

Be discreet

For hosts: If possible, you might consider inviting the entire team or class. However, that doesn’t always work out, so in that case, snail mail or email invites, and teach your child not to talk about his party in front of children who aren’t invited. However, be realistic. It’s hard to keep a preschooler or kindergartner from talking about her party. If you start having discussions about being discreet when children are young, they will handle the 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 let downs in life. Explain that he may be invited to the next party when someone else is not. If your child does receive an invitation, teach her to treat the matter with the same delicacy she did as the host.

Be clear with boundaries

For hosts: Be clear about party guidelines in the invitation. Give a time, date and place, 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 too. Sometimes parents are invited to have the main course (for example pizza) and the sweet treat. Sometimes they are just invited to have cake. You also may want to add a note about whether siblings may attend.

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 bathroom 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 (or even extra siblings) if you haven’t asked the host.

Be social

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.”

Be giving

For hosts: Teach your child not to expect to receive gifts, but if she does, compliment each guest and stay positive about every item, even if it is something that your child already has or is something he doesn’t like. If you have decided to forgo gifts, write “No gifts, please” on the invitation.

Favor bags aren’t necessary, and some parents may prefer for their children not get sugary candy and small plastic items. Instead, your child could pick out a memorable item to pass out to each guest who attends. For example if it is a spring party, give packets of flower seeds. A special memento is nice – my daughter’s favorite favor was a peacock feather.

For guests: Unless the invitation includes “No gifts please,” bring a gift. It doesn’t have to be expensive and can be handmade. Giving of your time is thoughtful; consider making a card to add to the gift with a heartfelt message written by your child.

Be courteous

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. Be on time, but 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 that she can plan for enough food and favors.

Birthday party manners are a gateway for graciousness as your child grows into a teen and adult. Embrace the opportunity they present to teach your child ways to socialize, and hopefully they will be invited to more special occasions to celebrate with friends as they grow older.

– Janeen Lewis

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