Cincinnati Family Magazine

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February 4, 2023

Birthday Party Etiquette

Who to invite? Open the presents or not? What about those pesky favors? Decisions, decisions!

Navigating the world of children’s birthday parties is overwhelming! Do I have to invite my child’s entire classroom? Are Evite invitations rude, too easy or just right? Is $25 too much to spend on a present these days? Don’t worry — I have your road map for avoiding birthday etiquette potholes!

The Guest List

Let’s start with the invites. You may not have the space, money or inclination to bring in every friend your child wants to (or feels like he should) invite, so do some investigating first. Find out the rule at your school for inviting kids politely (e.g., invite all the girls to a girl party or only who you want, but send invitations discreetly and don’t blab about it, etc.). You can always give your child a set number that you are willing to have at the party, then help him choose guests wisely.

One sticky mom wicket can be whether or not to mix school pals with other friends — it should be up to your child. But no matter what, if some friends don’t make the cut, plan on a special play date for them instead.

Now, what about if surprise guests arrive — older or younger siblings? Try and take care of that issue in your invitation: Stipulate that parents with other children are welcome to stay (if you want to do that) or write something whimsical like, “Wish we had room for everyone! Invited guests only, please!”

Today it’s perfectly fine to do your inviting with Evites, but if you’d like to involve your child more, hit up the party store with your birthday munchkin and let him pick out themed invitations to fill out with you.


If someone asks what your child wants for his birthday, it’s polite to say, “I’m sure anything your child picks out will be wonderful.” Of course you aren’t going to suggest an expensive building set, but you can throw out some general gift ideas related to your child’s interests.

And what about the great gift opening controversy? Do you let your child open his presents at the party or wait until after? I think it’s great to put the birthday child in one chair and the gift giver in another. Sometimes the frenzy of opening presents can be too much, so you’ll want to slow the process down. Have your child open the giver’s present while you snap a picture of them together. If the kids get bored with the pace, remind them cake is on the horizon. Don’t forget to remind your child to say “thank you” no matter what gifts he receives. When everything’s been opened, promptly whisk the gifts — especially gift cards and cash — out of sight so nothing gets lost or prematurely opened.


Lots of kids are either allergic to some food item or other these days, but don’t let that stop you from providing the cake your birthday child wants! And you DON’T have to provide food for parents who opt to hang around — the party’s not for them! Provide the items your child wants and if you have a child with a food allergy, it is thoughtful to provide something if his parents let you know in advance.


It’s up to you if you want to send home goody bags with the kids. No matter what, keep it simple. One giant Pixi Stix will do, or let the craft you make at the party be what the kids take home. If you just love putting together goody bags, however, feel free to go all out!


Always be thankful! Remember that picture you snapped earlier? Have it printed and place it in a thank you note that your child writes (or maybe he can just “sign” it if he’s too small).


There are specific tips toward making a party wonderful and yes, it has to do with etiquette:

  • Let your child pick the kind of party he wants
  • For courtesy and to assure kids come, get your invitations out at least two weeks ahead of the party.
  • Have your child greet each child as he arrives and help make everyone feel welcomed
  • If you’re doing a craft, have a sample already made so guests know what they’re making.
  • Play fun music!

Kerrie McLoughlin is the seasoned mom of five who writes about her controlled household chaos at

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