Tips for Attending Birthday Parties

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A post from LifeasMOM Contributor, JessieLeigh

As your child attends school, particularly during the younger grades, odds are good that he or she will be invited to a few birthday parties.

Here are some of my best tips for making these events as painless as possible for you AND the host:

RSVP in the manner requested.

If the invite suggests you call, do so. If an email is provided, feel free to use it. Try not to accept or decline while standing outside the school or classroom. Not only is it more difficult for the host to keep track that way but, also, you should…

Realize that not all the children in the class may have received an invitation. It is best if you don’t bring up the party to a bunch of mommies unless you know their children were also included. This could lead to hurt feelings or put the host in an awkward position.

Do make an effort to find out what the birthday kid is into.

It will simplify gift buying and will also serve as as good lesson for your own child. I know my kids love being given the “mission” of really paying attention to what their friends most love to play with or what books they choose from the library!

Don’t feel the need to spend a bundle on a gift.

My five year old daughter received a (no joke) $78 dollar Disney princess doll set from a classmate. She really liked it. However, she was no more impressed with that than she was with a five dollar set of princess books from another friend. The key to both gifts’ success was that the givers knew she was a princess lover. The money spent made no difference.

(Well, except for the generous gift making me feel a little uncomfortable!)

Do let the host know about any dietary restrictions.

Food allergies, a kosher diet, a vegan lifestyle… these are good things to know about, and many hosts will try to have at least one thing available that your child can eat. More importantly, though, it opens the door for communication. One of my daughter’s little friends is allergic to eggs. His mom always asks me what color frosting I’ve used so she can make a matching batch for one of the egg-free cupcakes she always keeps in her freezer. Our partnership makes it easy for all of us… and her son feels like he fits right in.

Do not assume siblings are welcome.

This seems like a no-brainer to me, but apparently some folks didn’t get the memo. If in doubt, either just ask or decline due to a lack of childcare. You’ll find out the answer either way.

Don’t be afraid to decline.

If you really don’t have the time or money to attend the party, politely give your regrets. If the party involves an activity you feel is too dangerous for your child (like four-wheeling) or too difficult for her abilities (and, thus, she may feel left out), it is totally appropriate to choose not to attend. You’re not compromising your child’s future social life by doing so.

Finally, relax.

Try to enjoy the party. Don’t hover over your kid, but don’t “check out” like this is your chance for free babysitting either. Sit back and watch the wonder of a child making a wish on a candle. See how thrilled they are to watch the birthday child open his gifts. Embrace their joy at being another year older…

What tricks do YOU use to make birthday parties a success?

— JessieLeigh is the mother of a former 24-week micropreemie and two full-term blessings as well. She is a determined advocate for the tiniest of babies, including the unborn, and a firm believer in faith and miracles. She shares about raising such a precious, tiny baby over at Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles.

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  1. I remember reading this last year, and commenting too πŸ˜‰ One thing I’m thinking about this year and noticing is the lack of RSVPing that occurs for hosts of a party. My daughters friends, all tend to be people that I’m good friends with too (most, not all). I ask for an RSVP and try to send out invitation at least two weeks before the party day – allowing plenty of time for them to organize childcare (if they are going to hang out with their child at the party) etc, plus any gift shopping they might want to do before hand. I have been invited to parties at the last minute before and trying to find the time to shop for an gift suddenly can throw my week out of whack if I did not plan on it. I’m always so surprised though, when it’s even less than a week until the party and I have not heard back. The party person is Hosting, planning this party – and really would like a head count I’m sure when it comes to figure out all the details – and with more notice then just the day before. Of course you can always plan for more people and if fewer show up you have more food – but if you are having to clear away place settings at the last second because someone hasn’t shown up because you “assumed” they would be coming – making more work for you….I just think it’s nicer, when people RSVP either way – and the sooner the better!

    Thanks for reposting Jessica!

  2. Awesome list, JessieLeigh – I’m definitely printing this off for reference when my daughter is at that age. Over here (we live in a very small town, in the boonies πŸ˜› ) we don’t do things like RSVP but I think it’s still very important to at least give the parent a heads up on if your kid is attending or not. It’s nice to know for how many kids you’d want to have party favors, food, etc. for. I also like the point on not having to spend a lot of money on a gift. I think a lot of kids would like dollar store gifts just as much if not better than a rather expensive gift. For them at that age, its often more about quality than quanity, lol :).

  3. What are your thoughts when the invitation says “no gifts”?

    My children LOVE picking out presents for their friends. Even if it is something small, they don’t care they just enjoy the process of picking out something for someone they care about. And as a mom I use the process to encourage giving to others etc.

    Do you think it is rude or acceptable to dictate what kind of gift to give or no gift at all?

    1. @Beth, That’s a tricky one… I, personally, think it’s outright rude when people register for kids’ parties. I’ve seen it before and I find it presumptuous and distasteful. Registering is appropriate for weddings and baby showers and that’s about it, in my opinion. πŸ™‚ Now… as far as “no gifts”. We’ve yet to receive an invite with that specification, but I’ve certainly heard of it. I think I would check with the host to see if they are collecting toys/food/donations for a charity in lieu of gifts. My kids get crazy excited picking out canned goods for the food pantry, so that would at least still allow them that thrill! If the host really insists you bring nothing, I would likely just take whatever funds we would have spent on a gift and let the children choose something that we could donate.

    2. @Beth, My daughter (preschool age) was just invited to a “no gift” party and I am totally ok with it because I know how it is to have a small child who has way too much stuff already! I am going to let her make her friend a card and maybe let her pick out a sheet of stickers to include in the card. My son and all his friends (age 11) have no gift parties but have a great time making cards for each other with their own homemade comic strips inside. Fun without more stuff to fill your home!

    3. @Beth, I know several people are offended and many don’t heed it when we ask for “no presents” but it came from necessity for us to start putting our foot down on it.

      You see, I have a 3yo which is the only grandchild on both sides and in addition we come from a close neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else. We have always had more than enough. At this time last year (right after her 2nd bday) we took stock of her playroom and she had over 200 toys. Every bday party she has had since birth has had well over 60 attendees (most families from my tot’s social/peer group) and no matter how many times we asked there we still received gifts for 1 out of every 2 people that came. Not that we don’t like the meaning & the gesture but it is hard to find room and also have the toy get any use. Especially at this age!

      Last year, in fact, we got rid of 90% of her toys (and 2/3rds of all our household goods) by giving them to friends & family. We decided to downsize from 3500 sqft this last Christmas to 800 sqft (more than enough space for the 3 of us). In doing so people finally understood that material items didn’t matter to us. Instead homemade goods, lovely cards, donations to charity, and prayers & well wishes were all we needed to mark holidays.

      Many times people ask for “no gifts” out of a real desire/reason to have nothing come into their homes. Some are like us trying to live a simple, more meaningful lifestyle. Some are like my mom, a recovering hoarder. Some just live in tiny places. Some already have a bounty of toys for their children. And many other reasons…

      If I see that on an invitation, I try to honor their request and hope that they do vice versa!

  4. Such a timely post. We will be having a party for my son next week. I generally don’t do goody bags. I don’t believe in sending kids home with a bag of dollar store trinkets and candy. With the girl I would have craft project but the boys don’t seem to be into that. I am thinking park party with cupcakes this year.

    1. @Lisa, A park party sounds lovely! I am mama to a little boy who loves doing craft projects, but I’ve heard other mommies say their boys weren’t into it. I think ALL kids would love cupcakes at the park though! πŸ™‚

  5. One thing that has really helped me not stress about parties my daughters have been invited to is keeping both a gift stash and wrapping paper stash. I try to always have a few items that I’ve picked up a deep clearance as well as wrapping paper and ribbons (usually bought at post-holiday clearance sales). That way I can give a nice present without having to stress about money, it also allows me to pick up gifts when the budget allows rather than when the party invite arrives. The other thing I’ve been doing since my 7 year old has been able is to have her make a card. I think it’s nicer than a store bought card and saves some money too.

    1. @Danielle, I agree completely about the cards! I love giving my kids the materials to make cards for their friends… and they are always so excited to see what their buddies choose to write/draw when they makes them!

  6. What a great reminder.

    I also have to mention keeping your conversations with other adults appropriate for children. The kids can and will over hear you as will other parents you may not be friends with. No one wants to hear about how much you had to drink last friday night or about your problems with your husband/wife.

    Offing to help especially during crazy times is often welcomed by the host parents. Even things as simple as collecting trash, offering to write down who gave what gift, assisting during games or crafts and helping with cake/cupcakes/ice cream or pouring drinks.

    1. @Celine, Oh, this is an EXCELLENT point! Adult conversation should absolutely be kept clean and age appropriate. We had a preschool mom last year who would come to the class parties and regularly drop the f-bomb. Really??? Thanks for this reminder!

  7. The last comment, about relaxing at the kids birthday party (someone else’s) made me laugh! I am amazed at how many times I have gone to a birthday party for someone else’s child, where I may not know everybody – and the birthday kid is a public school kid (we homeschool) – and how many parents show up to drop off their kids, and then leave! The parents don’t stay to enjoy the party. I might be a bit protective so I stay to make sure my kids are all right – but often I’m staying too to just enjoy the company of my friends! Baffles me, especially how you can just leave your kid at that birthday party – when you may not know them very well!

    1. @Lynette, One thing I’ve noticed, Lynette, is that (in our experience), it is often the parents who have a couple older children too who seem to be the most comfortable dropping their kids off. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or if they’ve just “been there, done that” before and feel more at ease with it. My oldest is only 6 and, well, I’m not there yet. πŸ˜‰

  8. I love that someone else understands all the “rules” of a Birthday party—I think every person who has a child should be required to read this. I like to do parties that are really planned out and having extra siblings can really throw things for a loop–

    Also I have a “gift box” full of boy/girl gifts that are standard. Every kid I know loves getting new crayons, or their own fun flashlight—So when things are on sale I buy one or two and toss them in the gift box –it has saved my neck a few times when we needed a gift fast! That way it keeps the cost down and I am always prepared!

    1. @Amy, Crayons are a classic for sure! And, oh yes, flashlights are a total hit! (I especially love the ones you can “hand power”… you know what I’m talking about? Keeps little hands busy and saves batteries. ;))

  9. My son received what seemed to me to be an extravagant present last year, too. I just told myself that that little boy’s mama is a super-bargain-hunter like me!

    This is a great post!

    1. @Damsel, That’s a good point… I DID take some comfort in the fact that I’m pretty sure the dad scored the gift on Black Friday and, as a result, likely saved a fair bit. πŸ™‚

  10. I think the hardest part is determining whether is it a “drop and go” or if the parents want you to stay…espeically when they are little. By first grade (at least in our circles), the drop and go is assumed.

    1. @Susie’s Homemade, My oldest is in kindergarten and, so far, we’ve not had nor attended any drop off parties. I did have one mom ask if she could drop her son at my child’s party and that was fine with me… but he was the only one sans parent. πŸ™‚ We’re starting to reach the ages where I’m thinking drop off parties might be easier (as the host!) Something to think about. Thanks for raising a good point!

    1. @Sarah, I think the inclusion of all kids in a classroom & the extra goody bags for all kids definetly help avoid the hurt feelings that can be had – sometimes I think we can be very rude in this country. However, I don’t believe that we should just expect that our kids are going to be invited to all birthday parties. That EXPECTATION is what leads to the hurt feelings, and really only hurts the person feeling the feelings!