Children’s Birthday Party Etiquette: What Every Parent Needs to Know

Here at Hold the Balloon, we think we’ve been around the party block long enough to know a thing or two about all things birthdays. In fact, our experience with helping families to throw incredible bashes year after year has resulted in some pretty far-ranging questions along the way.

Children’s Birthday Party Etiquette

One of the biggest? Children’s birthday party etiquette.

For some people, this is no big deal—your party, your rules. But for others, they want to hit the nail on the head each and every time, so knowing what to do matters. A lot.

Still, whether you’re a freestyling party planner or a by-the-book kind of host, we think it’s a good idea to at least have a general lay of the land. Here are 4 things every parent should keep in mind regarding birthday party etiquette when throwing their child’s next celebration:

Who Gets Invited?

Of all the decisions to make when planning a party, after the location, the invite list is easily the most difficult. And sometimes, the list actually dictates the party venue. The size of your list will determine the expense of your party to a large degree, though if you choose to have a home party over a party at a kid’s play zone, then clearly you can finagle the budget to make it work.

That said, there are still certain rules that go along with inviting friends. For school-aged children, it’s frowned upon—and frankly, kind of rude—to send invites to school with your child to only hand out to a handful of kids. This only hurts the feelings of the kids not invited and likely puts your child in a difficult position to explain why.

So should you invite all 25+ kids… especially if they’re not friends with your child? Not necessarily.

The way to circumvent this issue is to send digital invites or create a Facebook event that you could invite parents to individually. This way, only the kids that your child wants are invited but no one’s feelings get hurt in the process.

Should Parents Stay or Go?

In our experience, this is 100% up to the parents throwing the party. If you’re okay with managing a group of kids on your own—or if it would cost more money for the parents to stay and participate—then let them know that they can drop off and pick back up at a predetermined time.

However, it’s important to consider that if you DO ask for the parents to stay, then they may need to bring their other children, as well. In this case, party etiquette says it’s appropriate to ask for a headcount of how many family members will be attending prior to the party. On the other side, if you are a parent that has no other choice but to bring your other kids, let the hosts know ahead of time and certainly pay if it’s at a venue that has per person expenses (think: arcades, jump houses, zoo’s, etc.)

Who Pays the Bill?

Believe it or not, this does get asked quite frequently. Parents want to know if they should be responsible for the admission and activity fees of all guests and the resounding answer is… YES!

If you choose to host your child’s party at a game center, movie theater, play gym, etc. you must be willing—and able—to afford the expenses of each guest you invite. Asking parents to pay for their own kids to participate in your child’s party is tacky at best.

Now, again, if the parents of invited children need to have their other kids attend, then absolutely that expense is not yours to bear.

All Things Gifts


Hold on to your party hats, this topic is more loaded than an overstuffed piñata. Here are the most common questions regarding gifts:

Are registries tacky?

Registries can go either way. For some, it makes gift buying that much easier. Your guests will know that whatever they buy for the birthday child, it will be loved and appreciated. For others, however, they feel that this is overstepping and a bit improper.

Our rule of thumb with registries when it comes to kid’s birthday parties is this: if you are going to go that route, make sure everything on the list is affordable and appropriate. You should pick a reasonable dollar amount — roughly $20 — and stay under it.

Should the gifts be opened at the party?

Again, this is a polarizing question. Some parents think it’s rude to not open gifts, while other parents are thankful for not having to sit through it. We suggest allowing your venue to help make the decision for you. If you’re at a kid’s play venue then opening the gifts takes time away from a pretty small window of playable fun AND you’ll have to get everything back in order to bring home.

On the other side, if you’re having a home birthday party, then there likely isn’t the standard 2-hour timeframe for your party and the gifts will be staying there anyway. Go with your gut but make sure that the birthday boy or girl says thank you to every guest—and we happen to be big fans of a simple thank you card a few weeks later.

Should there even be gifts?

Finally, parents have begun requesting no gifts on invitations because their kids simply do not need another thing. And often, this is very true. However, while the birthday party is absolutely a gift that the child should appreciate, kids can’t help but expect gifts at their party. It would require a long conversation with the star of the day, so prepare yourself.

That said, some parents have started great birthday traditions—and it seems kids are keen on the idea. In lieu of gifts, parents are requesting donations to something the child loves. Big animal fans? Donations to the local animal shelter are appreciated. Have a bleeding heart for a kid? We’ve seen requests for non-perishables on invites to be donated to soup kitchens and shelters.

Non-traditional? Sure, but it may just be the best gift that keeps on giving.

We’re firm believers that there isn’t one right way and one wrong way to throw a birthday party. At the end of the day, ask yourself if your child had fun. If the answer is yes, we’d consider that a success, whether you invited the entire 3rd grade or not.