A Guide to Kids’ Birthdays with Bonus Tips From the Experts

Little kids studio portrait party celebration together

Think kids’ birthday parties are easy? Cake, some balloons, maybe a clown…right? WRONG! If you’re planning a birthday party for anyone under the age of 14, consider yourself in deep waters. Navigating the etiquette of preschool, elementary, and middle school-aged parties is a minefield. Fret not, we’re here to answer your prayers (and questions).

But also keep in mind we’re all about the drama (because who doesn’t like a little drama). No need to freak out because everything you need to know (and then some) is right here for your viewing. Take what you like and leave what you don’t — at the end of the day there are no real rules when it comes to this whole kid’s birthday party thing.

Here are some common question and answers about kids’ birthday parties that may be on your mind.

Q: How many people should I invite?

A: There’s an old Emily Post rule that says the correct number of children at a birthday party is your kid’s age + 1. So if your child is turning four they get to invite five friends. This rule of thumb is great for young kids because it keeps the party manageable for the adults and it’s not like your kid would remember a 50-person blowout anyways. For older kids things get a bit trickier so keep reading.

Q: Do I have to invite the whole class?

A: In a lot of cases, inviting all boys, all girls or the entire class is a safe bet. However, it’s completely understandable if you don’t want to have that big of a party, or if you think that your child might be overwhelmed by that many children. If you’re only planning on inviting a handful of kids this is a great opportunity to teach your child the invaluable lesson of discretion. Mail invitations to houses, don’t hand them out at school in front of the other kids and ask your child not to talk about it in front of people who aren’t invited.

DeDesirée, founder of Verve Event Co., suggests limiting the guest list. 

“Your kids don’t need a million friends or their whole class to come to their party. Invite the people they will have the most fun with and are important to them. Some people use the rule of inviting the number of friends that equals the child’s age. So if they’re turning 5, they have 5 friends join them. Keeping it intimate will make it simpler for you and make it less overwhelming for the child.”

Q: Should I print invitations?

A: While an e-mail or e-vite might be easier, a big argument for printed invitations is that it lets your child have a say in the party planning. Choosing invitations is fun and will allow your kid to set the theme for their party and showcase their favorite color or TV character.

Mailing real kids birthday party invitations also makes it more likely that your guests will actually respond (and attend).

Q: How do I get people to RSVP?

A: Include an “RSVP by” date in the invitation as well as a phone number or email address for parents to contact. This will also give you a chance to clarify to guests about whether or not siblings or other children are invited. If the party is coming up and people still haven’t responded, call the parents with a friendly reminder, “Hey, is ____ coming to Anna’s party? Just trying to get a final headcount!”. Do your best to pretend like you don’t want to pull out your hair. 

Q: Do I let my child open presents at the party?

A: Although this one is your call, we would advise against it. Depending on how old your child is, they might not have the attention span to open all their presents at once. You’re also running the risk that your child might react negatively to a present that he or she does not like. Keep in mind that other kids don’t necessarily want to watch someone else open presents that they don’t get to play with.

Q: What’s the deal with goody bags?

A: They definitely aren’t necessary but that bag of candy/toys/stickers is pure gold to your kid’s friends. If you end up giving out goody bags remember that spending more than $5 on each bag is crazy and unnecessary. Baking cookies or including something else handmade is a nice alternative.

Alexandra Fung, CEO of Upparent, has an interesting approach to dealing with goody bags and says it’s they’re not really necessary.

“It’s OK to skip the goody bags! If you want to hand out party favors, try choosing one small but unique item. The kids will feel like they’ve received a special little gift, they’ll be more likely to use and enjoy it, and it often turns out to be less expensive. Plus, parents will be grateful that they don’t have a mess of candy and plastic trinkets to deal with.”

Q: Does my child have to write thank you notes?

A: It’s important to teach your child how to properly thank people and express gratitude. A birthday party is a great opportunity to sit down and go over the ancient art of writing thank you notes. If you have a young child it’s perfectly acceptable for you to write the message. Slightly older children should at least sign their name, and middle-school aged children should do the writing themselves. Writing thank you notes is a great way to teach kids about practicing gratitude!

Ready to dive in to planning your kid’s birthday party? Go ahead and don’t worry — whatever happens, everyone will have a great time!

Start by mailing out your kids party invitations!

Want to mail the invites without leaving your couch (or computer)? We got you. Start here.

Postable has a huge selection of fun designs that you can customize with your child and then Postable will print, address and mail them all out for you.

It’s like magic only not really.

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