By Guest Blogger Denise Heidel with Forsyth Family magazine

Ah, birthday parties! An early introduction to social gatherings and customs! A time when the birthday child, as well as young party guests, are given the opportunity to slip their feet into those shiny shoes of social decorum. Huh? For those veteran parents out there who are saying, “Yeah, right!”—I know, I know! I’m exaggerating. Anyone who has watched ten 5-year-olds line up for cake knows that the decorum goes straight out the window. But no matter how socially graceful your child is or isn’t at a birthday party—be it their own or a friend’s—they are never too young to learn etiquette.

Etiquette for the Host/Hostess:

  1. How Many to Invite? It has been suggested that the number of invitations should be your child’s age plus one. But ultimately—it is what you and your budget can handle. However, if you have a child who wants to invite everyone in his or her class—then everyone must receive a party invitation. If your budget won’t support the entire class, but little Suzie wants to invite her best friend, then be discreet and encourage your child to be discreet as well. If the entire class is not receiving an invitation, invitations should not be sent to school. Discourage your child from discussing it in front of peers who may have their feelings hurt if they aren’t invited.
  1. Be Punctual. If you send out invitations that the party starts at 2:00, please be ready to start at 2:00. It is not unusual for parents to have multiple events to take their children to in a single weekend. From soccer practice to play rehearsal to other birthday parties, your guests may be on a timetable that is inflexible. Being respectful of their time is imperative, especially when other family or social obligations may be next on the guests’ agenda!
  1. Social Expectations. When children get together for social occasions, it is only natural that preferential treatment will occur. Johnny is going to have to remember that even though his best friend Tommy is there, he has other guests to visit. Before the party begins, you should talk to your child about social expectations and the importance of making everyone feel welcome!
  1. Gift Bearing. Another party precursor should be a conversation regarding gifts. If gifts are opened at the party, it is important that the child thank the giver and acknowledge every gift received. You may also want to prepare your child with how to handle possible duplicate gifts. After all, if Sandy has told everyone attending the party how much she wants the new Hanna Montana CD—she may very well end up with several copies of it!
  1. Thank You’s. It’s a lost art, but the “Thank You” note never goes out of style. It does not have to be long, but every gift should be acknowledged with a thank-you card. Written acknowledgement is a part of social development and certainly, it is an act of demonstrated appreciation in a world where so much is taken for granted!

Etiquette for the Guests:

  1. RSVP. If a RSVP is requested, please provide a RSVP. Birthday parties can get expensive, and the hosts will more than likely measure the guest list against the budget several times during the planning phase. Providing a RSVP when requested is a matter of simple courtesy, even if “Regrets” rather than “Accepts” are being sent.
  1. Plus One. If you intend to stay with your child during the party, please notify the hosts when you RSVP, so that they can make allowances for you. If you have an older or younger child than the invited guest, make alternative arrangements for them that day or, at the very least, make sure the host is okay with a sibling. Parties at skating rinks or other venues often include a per-head cost. It is not fair to unexpectedly burden a host with additional costs that may ultimately exceed their party budget.
  1. Drop Off/Pick Up. On time. If you have ever thrown a party, you are certainly aware of the chaos that ensues prior to the first guest’s arrival. Be respectful of the host and show up on time, not 30 minutes early. More than likely, they are not quite ready to jump into “Host” mode, and may in fact still be setting up the party. And please be sure to pick your child up on time. If you find you are going to be late, call ahead of time and let the host know when they can expect you. Remember, your child is a guest and the host is not a babysitter.
  1. Being Respectful. When you drop your children off, be sure that they understand your expectations. Certainly, you will want them to be respectful of the hosts’ home and belongings, just as if they were yours! Urging your children to duplicate the behavior you expect will only benefit everyone present!
  1. How embarrassing! Little Sandy told you that she wanted Hanna Montana’s new CD and yours is the 3rd copy she’s opened! If you have the option to provide a gift receipt, please do so. It will make things so much easier on the hosts if they can easily exchange a thoughtful gift that has been thought of too many times.

Birthday parties are supposed to be fun! Encouraging good manners—on both sides of the party—will help to ensure fun for everyone! Be a party to party etiquette!

*This article was reprinted with permission from Forsyth Family magazine