Birthday parties are an ideal setting to introduce children to the world of proper social etiquette. With every celebration, year after year, children have many opportunities to continuously learn more about becoming gracious hosts and respectful guests. From learning how to greet their guests, understanding how to make their guests feel welcome, and how to leave a positive lasting impression on those around them, parents can use these events to teach social skills that will take children successfully into adulthood.


I stress the importance of including children in all of the tips below. As a teacher, I believe that interactive learning produces results that children are far more likely to carry into adulthood. It is worth understanding that social etiquette is far more than a set of rules. Explaining the reasons behind, and involving children in the process of each social norm, either through role-playing or rich discussions, can make the process of learning social etiquette much more organic.

It is important to find out what the policy is in your child’s classroom when it comes to distributing invitations. If it is not mandatory to invite everyone in the class then be sure to have a discussion with your child regarding being discreet.  Consider role-playing and have them understand how others may feel if invitations to everyone, except them, are freely given out in front of them. Consider mailing invites, or slipping them into student’s backpacks.

The fact that I often get asked this question by parents shows how we have become accustomed to showing our appreciation for each other via the act of gift-giving. However, the rising popularity of “no gifts please” birthday invites definitely throws a curveball for many parents. The first thing to remember is that there is often a good reason behind this polite request. For my son Zane’s 1st birthday party, we included a direct link for attendees to donate any monetary amount to a BC Children’s Hospital birthday page. Our goal was to show him how much his birthdays can raise for a good cause. Alternatively, parents simply may want to limit the sheer amount of material toys entering their home, or feel their child will receive more than enough from family members. Whichever the reason, it’s important to respect their wishes – regardless of how foreign the concept may be to you and your experiences.
If your child has their heart set on gifting a special item, perhaps something they have hand-made, it is important to give this gift discreetly, as to avoid making other guests feel uncomfortable for not bringing a gift. An alternative to avoid walking in “empty handed” is to bring a dish, perhaps something sweet or healthy, to add to the celebration. This will also teach children that they can “give” in a variety of different ways.

The task of RSVP’ing is so simple that it often gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list! I find that by providing a reason to RSVP by a specific date increases the probability of receiving a timely response (Yes, unfortunately having to give a reason to RSVP is sometimes required). Consider writing: “Please RSVP by October 20th in order for us to meet the caterer’s deadline” or, “In order for your child to be included in the activity, we ask you to please RSVP by October 20th.”
Headcounts are important, so make sure you aren’t showing up without RSVP’ing in a timely manner.

Depending on the age of your child, more times than not, a birthday party is not weekend daycare, regardless of how tempting the idea may be! I have had many parents express to me their frustration when parents drop off their young children expecting the host parents to carry out the duties of entertaining while managing 20+ children. This is a big task. Please find out beforehand if the party involves parent participation/presence. If the party involves drop off, please check in with the host parent before you leave so they know that your child has arrived. Asking if there is anything you can do to help out before you leave your child is also a polite way to depart on a positive note.  Further, during pick up, you could always offer a hand to help clear up after the kids.

It is important that the host makes their invitation as clear as possible. Are parents invited (see above), and does the party’s activities have room to include participant’s siblings? Often times, parents will need to bring all of their children to an event for lack of weekend childcare. If the birthday activity does not permit for this, politely state this on the invitation to give parents enough time to plan. A heartfelt explanation is always a great way to soften your words and avoid misunderstandings. For example, you may want to consider writing: “Since the art studio can only accommodate a limited number of children we are regretfully unable to accommodate siblings this year.”

Transforming thank-you notes into art activities can make this task much more entertaining for kids and allows for a personal touch. E-cards are also an option if your child is computer-savvy. Regardless of the format of your child’s “Thank You” (handwritten, email, or face-to-face), be sure they understand the concept of being grateful. Explain how time is precious and that all of their guests took time out of their schedules to celebrate with them. If gifts were received, including what made the gift special is also an added touch.

The goal of proper etiquette is to eliminate to chances of offending anyone. Although not everyone will adhere to proper social protocol, it is important that you continue explaining to your children how their actions ultimately build their character while allowing everyone around them to feel included and respected.

- Sunita Padda,
Founder, TableSmarts