Kids’ Party Etiquette

Learn the answers to common questions about children's party etiquette such as how many guests to invite, how many games to play, what favors to give out, how to handle bad birthday behavior, when to write thank you notes and more.


Party Planning & Invitations

Who should be invited? Many children would love to invite their entire class, all their neighborhood friends, their soccer pals, plus any cousins who live nearby. But this just isn't practical or affordable for most families, so where do you draw the line? First, ask yourself how many children you are comfortable hosting, and do let your budget be a consideration. A manageable party will be more enjoyable for both you and your guests!

  • One common guideline is to invite only as many children as your child's age, plus one. So if your child is turning five, you would invite six children to the party. The idea behind this is to keep the party small when children are young so they are less likely to be overwhelmed. Then, each year your child learns to handle a larger group.
  • Another thing to consider is whether the party will be indoors or out. Typically, it is easier to host a larger group of children in an outdoor setting. For a party at home, tailor the guest list to the space you have available. You may decide to hold the party at another location such as a recreation center, church hall, or a business that offers party packages, in order to invite more children.
  • Whether you have a big backyard bash or a smaller destination party, do invite your child's friends, but do not feel obligated to include their friends' siblings.

How can I include all my child's school friends in a manageable way? Many parents worry about making children feel left out on their child's special day. This is especially true after a child enters elementary school, where class sizes tend to be larger. To keep you from overspending your budget, or winding up with more children than you can comfortably handle, we recommend asking your child's teacher if you can bring a birthday treat to class on your child's birthday, such as donuts, brownies, or cupcakes. This way the whole class will feel included in your child's birthday celebration.


What information should be included on the invitations? Your invitations should be clear about the type of party being given, and the date, time, and location of the party. Begin by telling guests who the party is for at the top of the invitation. Next, give the date and time of the party. You definitely want to give both a start time and an end time to avoid confusion about when parents should return for their children. If the party must start or end precisely at a certain time, such as one being hosted at a movie theater, include the word "sharp" after the time.

  • Be specific about the party location. If the party is being given at your home, give your street address. If the location is somewhere else, such as at a restaurant or church hall, give the name of the location and the street address.
  • Be kind to your fellow parents! Let them know on the invitations if the children should dress for messy activities, bring a swimsuit and towel, etc.
  • If your party will be held outdoors, you need to have a plan ready in case of bad weather. If you can't move most of the activities indoors, and would need to postpone the party to another date, you should include instructions such as, "If rain is forecasted, we'll call you with an alternate plan" or "Rain date is xx/xx/xx."

What is the best time for a children's party, and how long should it last? For babies and toddlers up to three years old, when naptime is still a consideration, a one-hour party is long enough. When children are four to seven years old, plan on one and a half hours for the party. By the time children are eight to eleven years old, they can easily handle a two-hour party. Children twelve and up can entertain themselves to some extent, so they will likely want an evening party or sleepover. The best time of day to have a baby or toddler party is probably 10:00am11:00am. This lets you work around nap time, and is long enough for some free play and cake. As children get older, parties are usually from 1:30pm3:00pm or 2:00pm4:00pm. This gives plenty of time for games, snacks, and cake.


What if I want a parent to stay? Sometimes you may want other parents on hand to help you supervise the children during the party. To make this request clear, you can add wording on the invitations asking that the invited child come with one parent. A good time to confirm this request is when the other parents call you to respond.

How do I handle RSVPs, and more importantly, the ones who don't call? If you ask guests to RSVP by a specific date, most parents will call. For the rest, you will need to get on the phone to find out who is coming. Just because a parent hasn't responded, don't assume their child isn't coming to your party! And you really do need a head count for planning purposes, because you want to have enough food and party favors for every child who attends the party.

  • When making the call, you can say something like "Hello, this is Maggie Jones. Will your son Kevin be able to join us for the birthday party this weekend?"
  • You should also be prepared to answer a common question from other parents, which is "what gift would your child like?" Responding with "it doesn't matter" won't help the other parent, so be ready with a few ideas. You can say something like "Thank you for asking. Jack really loves Lego bricks, dinosaurs, and books about cars."

How should I address the envelopes? Address each invitation to the person being invited. If you want little Bobby to attend, but not his siblings, address the envelope to Bobby Smith.

  • Keep in mind that children under the age of five will usually bring a date their mom or dad. Many children this age are not ready to socialize at a party without a parent nearby. These parents will linger in the background, and will most likely be willing to help in any way. Let them help you serve cake and clear away dishes.
  • If you do want entire families to attend the party, address the invitation to "Bobby Smith and Family", or "The Smith Family". Or you could write "Siblings Welcome" inside the invitation.

Party Games & Activities

Are competitive party games a mistake? And how many games are enough? Some parents worry about games that result in winners and losers, but competitive party games still have their place at a kid's birthday party. The key is to make the prizes fairly small, so the other children aren't tempted to feel jealous. Consider giving small packets of candy, or stickers as prizes. Be sure to include non-competitive activities in your party, too, such as a craft or a group game where the children work together in teams.

  • When planning party activities, always add two more games or crafts than you think you will need. These extra ideas will rescue you on the party day if the children finish a game more quickly than you expected. For a toddler party, it is generally accepted to let the kids play freely most of the time, so one or two games are all you will need.
  • For other age groups, plan 3-5 crafts or games if your party will last one-and-a-half hours. For a two-hour party, you will need 4-6 activities.
  • Don't push the children to finish a game that they are enjoying. If you've hit upon a winner, the kids may want to play it again! Forget about getting through your entire list of games, and let the party flow at its own pace.

Party Favor Ideas

How should I handle the favor bags? And who gets one? Providing party favors, often called goody bags, is pretty standard at children's birthday parties. A favor is basically a small thank-you gift provided to each guest for attending the party. Each favor bag typically contains a few small toys and candy.

  • You need to prepare the favor bags before the big day, and place them near the party exit. That way they will be right where you need them as guests begin to leave.
  • Make a favor bag for every child attending the party, plus one or two extra in case any unconfirmed guests are suddenly able to come at the last moment. (Yes, this happens all the time.)
  • If a parent arrives to pick up their child and a sibling is with them, do not feel obligated to provide that sibling with a favor bag. However, if you are asking some parents to stay during the party, be prepared for some of them to bring along other children. In this instance, you may want to have a few extra favors on hand so siblings in attendance don't feel left out.

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