Home Ages + Stages Moms {Still} Need to Know :: Birthday Party Etiquette

Moms {Still} Need to Know :: Birthday Party Etiquette

Moms {Still} Need to Know :: Birthday Party Etiquette

Birthday Party EtiquetteEtiquette.

Some of you may be thinking to yourself, “Does it really even exist anymore?

In my heart of hearts, I believe it does. I believe that what many think to be the breakdown of etiquette, or the lack of manners, is merely the differences among us.

Although Emily Post and Miss Manners would be aghast at the thought, I assert that etiquette and manners are quite subjective, and what seems and feels right to one person can be vastly different from what seems and feels right to another.

With an almost-three-year-old under our roof, we get to attend a lot of birthday parties. From our son’s classmates to church friends to neighborhood friends to college friends to family members with children, we have a plethora of birthday party opportunities.

But it wasn’t until our twins were born that I started really thinking about the significance of birthday party etiquette.

Birthday Party Etiquette

If questions of birthday party etiquette hadn’t already presented themselves to my family (which they most definitely have), then they certainly will once our twin littles start kindergarten. You see, starting in kinder, they will be separated into two different classrooms, which means two different sets of classmates’ birthday parties.

Although it’s not the only important question of birthday party etiquette, it is one of the main ones: If one of my twin boys is invited to a birthday party for one of his classmates, is his twin brother (who is not in the same class) invited as well? And for that matter, what about our twins’ older brother — can I assume that he’s invited?

The answers may seem obvious to you (they do to me), but you’d be surprised how many people have different opinions on the matter (regardless of whether you answered “yes” or “no” to the questions).

Although there are several matters that warrant attention, I’m currently most intrigued by three aspects of kids’ birthday parties: RSVPs, siblings, and gifts.

Birthday Party EtiquetteRSVPs

French for répondez, s’il vous plaît or “please reply.”

Quite simply, this means your host wants to know whether or not you’re attending. I will NEVER understand why the simple act of RSVPing is so difficult for some. I’m not talking about the person who occasionally forgets. I’ve been that person (always regrettably so). I’m talking about the person who never RSVPs — no email, no text, no phone call, nothing.

I just don’t understand it. Especially in this day and age when the vast majority of us spend a significant amount of time attached to at least one (or all three) modes of communication that make it easy to RSVP: phone, other mobile device, and/or computer. In my mind, it’s a matter of respect for the time and energy that the host puts into planning the event and wants you to be a part of it.

For those who DO send an RSVP, your responsibility doesn’t end there.  If you’re doing one of the following, you should communicate accordingly as well:

If you’re changing a “yes” reply to a “no.”

Although I have my own personal standards for when this is acceptable, I’ll leave that opinion out of it. Suffice it to say that at the bare minimum, it is always appropriate to call/text/email to let the host know as soon as you know that you are no longer able to be there for the party. Otherwise, if you don’t communicate this change of plans, you’re considered a “no show.” Does it mean anything that I happen to remember who “no showed” to my wedding? When there’s a per head charge (and you’re paying for them whether they show up or not), it’s hard NOT to remember who said they were coming but didn’t. But I digress . . . this isn’t about weddings. That’s another post in and of itself.

If you’re changing a “no” reply to a “yes,”

This is perfectly fine as long as you’re able to let the host know with enough time to prepare accordingly. Remember, they invited you, and they want you to be there.

Siblings: To Bring or Not to Bring?

This one is complicated, but it really doesn’t have to be. In a perfect world, all invitations would declare that either “siblings are welcome” or not, but the fact of the matter is that some people don’t think about being that specific on an invite (and some are just happy they HAD invites!).

What’s so wrong with setting some polite and respectful boundaries all in the name of keeping the event as stress-free and FUN as it is intended to be?

I have three kids myself, so I understand the sibling issue firsthand. We’ve dealt with it on both sides of the party coin — as the hosts and as the guests. It’s important to remember that most parents are simply trying to figure out the logistics of childcare.

There are many factors to consider when it comes to guest head count at an event:

  • Is the party at a venue where you have to pay per guest? Or is it at someone’s home?
  • How big is the space? Even if it’s at a home, does the host feel as though their home is big enough to accommodate all their guests AND their guests’ siblings?
  • Are there party favors involved? Is the cake sized for a certain number of people? Ice cream for a certain number? Food for a certain number? Activities for a certain number/age group? (i.e., the bounce house. Have you ever had your 2-year-old run excitedly into a bounce house with several 5-year-olds? If you have, then you know my apprehension.)

In my mind, the resolution to this is a simple one: Never make assumptions and always ask permission of the party host if you want to bring the guest’s sibling(s).

On the same note, be prepared for the answer either way. Remember, your child WAS invited. Keep this in mind if you’re inclined to take it personally or feel offended/hurt/mad if the host’s answer happens to be a polite “no.”

To the party hostess:

Know that it’s your right to choose “siblings welcome” or not, so if/when someone asks, don’t be afraid to simply reply, “Thank you so much for asking! This year we’re making the party for “Susie’s” friends only. I hope “Jane” will be able to make it!” Then, depending on the age of the children, if you’re willing to allow Jane to be dropped off, then it’s certainly fine to offer that as an option.

I do think there are exceptions and an addendum to this: Your relationship with the particular host should be considered. There are essentially two categories that party guests fall into:

Family/close friends

Unless specifically stated otherwise or for a specific type of party (i.e., older child’s slumber party), there actually is an assumption that all children within the invited family are invited.


If it’s not stated on the invitation, never assume siblings are welcome. Always ask first.

  • If a guest asks the hostess whether or not siblings are welcome and the answer is “yes,” then don’t assume there is a party favor for the sibling(s) as well.
  • In my mind, babies who are in an infant carrier or stroller are exempt from the sibling “rules.”

Birthday EtiquetteGifts

Have you ever received a birthday invitation that requests an alternative gift in lieu of toys for the guest of honor? Books, donations to a charity or cause, or even simply “no gifts” or “your presence is your present?”

Of course. We all have. By all means, I truly respect and appreciate the spirit behind this. But ask me if I think it’s effective, and you’ll get a completely different answer.

You see, although my oldest is just under three, I’ve already fallen prey to the no gifts/ donate to charity thing. I’ve honored that request once and will likely not honor it again. I’m not saying I won’t donate to their favorite charity, but in addition, I will bring a gift. At least a small gift. Something.

Why, you ask?

Because the one time I honored the host’s request for no gifts, it felt as though I was the only one who didn’t bring a gift. Now, seeing as how the guest of honor was only a year old, he didn’t know any better (phew!). However, once the children are old enough to know the difference, the scenario can be a bit different.

A wonderfully honest friend who has older children recently shared a story with our mommy group:

Here’s how the birthday gift experience has gone down for her and her (older) kiddos one too many times:

  1. As requested on the invite, she doesn’t bring a gift.
  2. Her kid is embarrassed that they didn’t bring a gift.
  3. Other people still bring gifts (*always*).
  4. Birthday kid asks her kid where his/her gift is (happens more often than you’d think).
  5. Her kid is even more embarrassed.

All of a sudden, it’s no longer about how the lack of a gift made ME feel (I’ll get over it quickly), but now it’s about how it made my child feel (not so quick to get over that). I know my child(ren) will have plenty of experiences to contend with in life that will make them feel insignificant. I don’t need their friends’ birthday parties to add to that unnecessarily.

As we’ve mentioned on Dallas Moms many times, The Birthday Party Project is a great way to give older children — those who actually initiate the desire to donate their party, birthday money, and/or birthday gifts to those in need — a way to give back.

From the point-of-view of the host and/or the guest, what are your thoughts on birthday party etiquette?

Am I living in a fantasy world to think that we’re all still capable of some level of etiquette and manners?

This post was originally published on March 27, 2014.


  1. I just purchased some plush monsters that I want to use as part of the centerpieces at my son’s birthday party. Is it rude if I do not allow people to take the monsters because I want my son to keep them?

  2. I love this post! I am going to a “no gifts” please party tomorrow and I too have struggled with whether or not to bring a gift for the birthday girl. Thanks for your advice!

  3. While I agree with the RSVP and siblings portions of this blog, I disagree with the gifts opinion. As a parent of three, soon to be four, when I ask for “no gifts” it is because we literally want no more gifts brought into our home. Our children have enough things, and we are responsible parents who can explain to our children beforehand that they won’t have presents to open in front of friends that day (or that their friend will not receive presents from everyone so not to feel bad) – it’s a time to play and eat cake and celebrate. We have always requested no gifts, and I’m usually frustrated by the people who bring them anyway. I have had multiple conversations with other moms who feel the same. Just because we might feel guilty at first because another parent didn’t follow the rules when we’re attending a party, doesn’t mean we should disrespect the reason the parents of the birthday boy/girl are requesting no gifts. At our oldest’s last party we thanked people who brought gifts, set them aside out of sight, didn’t open them that day (which didn’t affect her at all), and dropped them off at the Family Place later that day. We aren’t asking for “no gifts” to be humble or polite, it’s because taking on the excess clutter is a bigger chore than teaching our children not to have certain expectations. We still bring a card when it’s age appropriate because it can be tossed into the recycle bin later and kids like to receive mail. Thanks for shedding light on these party topics!


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