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Birthday Party Etiquette

2012 December 13

If you have been reading this blog on the regular lately, you know I have been struggling with a lot of things since Little D started kindergarten in September. Homework. Multiple volunteering obligations. A prompt start time in the morning…which I think we have made maybe once. Homework.

But one of the things I have really had issues with in the past few months is the birthday party protocol. The teachers made some passing comment early on in the year about parties and how if you are sending invitations to school with the kids, that you should invite the whole class. If you are not inviting the whole class, then you shouldn’t send invites to school, so you don’t risk any hurt feelings.

Ok, that’s fine and nice.

But here’s the thing: your kids are five. Regardless of whether or not invitations are floating around in cubby holes, they are talking about their parties on the schoolyard, in the classroom, heck even in the potty…whatever chance they get. And inevitably, though obviously not purposefully, they are hurting feelings when some kids aren’t included in the fun.

This is not the kids’ issue. This is the parents’ issue. Sigh. Add it to my list above, right under homework.

The way I see it is this: you should either a) invite the whole class or b) have a personal birthday party that entails family, neighbors, maybe one or two schoolmates, at most.

I know birthday parties are expensive and time consuming and labor intensive…but do they have to be? If you can’t afford to entertain 20 kids at a play gym, consider the nearest public park instead. Some balloons, pizza and a cake. That’s all you need. If you don’t have the time to write out dozens of invites, use Paperless Post. If your son wants an “all boys” party, maybe you should use the opportunity to talk to him about friendships and the concept of “the more, the merrier” before it becomes a real issue later in life…I am particularly passionate about this one, whether it’s boys or girls. How are we teaching our kids about tolerance and relationships and maturity if we are letting them segregate themselves over Elmo cake and balloons as five-year-olds? One mother in Little D’s class expressed her concern at parent/teacher conference night about her son’s newfound unwillingness to socialize with girls since he got into kindergarten. “He is very into the boys thing lately and I am concerned that he’s developing a mentality against girls.” Fast-forward just two short months. She hosted an all boys birthday party for him…so ya…clearly, she was very concerned.

Ok, I digress. I am sure there are lots of opinions floating around your pick up and drop off circles on this front. I understand everyone has a different approach, different traditions, maybe different ideals when it comes to celebrating your child every year. And I understand that the precedence you set now will probably stick with you for years to come — and that could mean a lot of cupcakes.

But I urge you to think about not only your child, your budget or your stress level as you plan the next celebration, but the 19 or so other little cupcake lovers running around the schoolyard. At this age, in particular, they are so sensitive and perceptive and excited about the friends that surround them.

We wouldn’t want to blow out that candle so early, would we?

What’s your take on birthday parties? The more, the merrier? Small and select?

*Editor’s note: this isn’t a bitter post related to how many invitations Little D gets or doesn’t get. She gets plenty, trust me…and is very fulfilled on a social level. With the exception of the boy’s party, of course ๐Ÿ˜‰

**Image above via Jason Cooper*


14 Responses leave one →
  1. December 13, 2012

    My take: invite who you want to invite – and you your child wants to invite – appropriate to the scale of the party, location, and activity. Yes, there may be hurt feelings. And yes, the hosting parent has an opportunity to discuss including different sorts of people. And ALL of the above are opportunities for discussion and a child’s own decision-making, guided by the parent. I do not think it necessary – or even reasonable (especially with 22 kids in my 5yo’s kindergarten class that doesn’t include all of her non-school friends) to invite the whole class. There. I said it.

    • WWGD permalink*
      December 13, 2012

      Ha ha, thanks for saying it. I had a feeling that would be the overwhelming opinion on the subject…but was curious to see.

  2. liz duncan permalink
    December 13, 2012

    I have different opinions about this subject since I don’t have my own children to defend. I see where the schools are coming from with trying to protect every child’s feelings, but I also think it’s protecting children’s feelings a little too much. They are going to have a million and one birthday parties until they hit Jr. High where all the birthday rules will change and all of a sudden they’re invited to three birthday parties a year. Now their self esteem is really going to suffer; Jr. High, bad skin and their social life dropped off, yikes! I’d rather break it to them when they’re 5. They’re not going to get invited to everyone’s party, just like they are not going to invite everyone to their party. Grow up already. Ha! Totally kidding.

    • WWGD permalink*
      December 13, 2012

      Totally hear you – and I guess that’s why I’d like to keep the bubble going, at least for another year… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. linette permalink
    December 13, 2012

    I’m a member of the club that believes inviting the whole class is a bit over the top. They are going to get their feelings hurt at school unfortunately, either because of a missing birthday party invite, or because they weren’t included in a game on the playground…but this is an opportunity for the parents to guide the child through that experience so they can let it roll off their back next time a little easier. Expecting parents to host 20+ kids (+siblings that tag along usually) is just unreasonable in my opinion.

    • WWGD permalink*
      December 13, 2012

      I hear you — though I have to say, I hosted the whole class last year and with smart planning, it really isn’t that crazy or difficult. And I was happy I did. Truth is, the whole class never comes anyhow…safe to count on that ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Jasmine P permalink
    December 13, 2012

    As the parent of a child who was not invited to a classmate’s party – it not only sucked watching her confused and sad face as she saw the girls who received invites prance around showing off their Hello Kitty sparkly invitations, it made me mad. Yes, we need these life lessons to teach our children, grow with our children, ya di ya di ya di…but as parents, shouldn’t we also teach our children the importance of considering others’ feelings? And being mindful that feeling left-out is a horrible feeling at any age.

    When we host a birthday party we send out evites or paperless post invites, and we usually keep the party to family, and friends that do not attend our school. To celebrate with the entire class we buy a book for the room and write a donation to the class in it and every student gets a pencil.
    Everyone is included and happy and that’s exactly what children should feel.

    • WWGD permalink*
      December 13, 2012

      That sounds so lovely — great idea. Who wants to go to a Hello Kitty party anyhow?!? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. December 13, 2012

    I agree if you’re not inviting the whole class you shouldn’t send the invites to school. And we’ve done the invite the whole class to a party thing. But now that my son is in first grade and he’s been to 3 different daycares/schools, has soccer, after care, etc it’s just impossible to invite the whole class and invite the other friends he’s made at the other places. I think it’s a lesson to my son as well – my money doesn’t grow on trees so we have to make some choices. But we do remind him that he can’t talk about his party at school if we’re not inviting everyone. I’ve had to remind my husband of this too – several times he’s asked a parent if they’re going to so and so’s party and it turns out so and so didn’t invite everyone. Just keep it to yourself.

    • WWGD permalink*
      December 13, 2012

      Yes! Good reminder about parents keeping it mum, too. I watched a girlfriend accidentally do that with another mom last week, and the looks on both their faces was so sad ๐Ÿ™

  6. December 13, 2012

    I’m OK with the all girl or all boy party provided they actually invite ALL the girls in the class. My daughter wanted a Fancy Nancy party last year which would have been ridiculous if boys were there. My bigger b-day party complaints: Parents sending home invitations for parties IN the preschool classroom which makes the parent think that they have to send a gift because the invitation indicated that they’re supplying a face-painter, pizza and cake. And if you DON’T send in a gift (maybe you can’t afford it or in my case were just protesting the rudeness), your own kid pitches a fit because she didn’t have anything for Kayla… And my new personal favorite: Birthday parties that start at or before 5:00 on a work day so I’d have to take time out of the office to take my child. I’ve been invited to 3 parties this year that would have required me to leave work early. *stepping down from my soap box*

  7. Sara permalink
    December 13, 2012

    i believe very strongly that you should invite the whole class in kindergarten. After that, I think it’s okay to do all the boys or all the girls, if not both. To not do so is the equivalent of not sending valentines to all the children in the class. If you cannot afford it, then just have a very private party. If you decide to go against this, it will backfire against your kid, because they won’t get invited to parties and will be seen as cliquey and not inclusive. A lot of the time, it is the mothers who are running this show and invite the children of the families they want to socialize with. This is also a bad idea because what happens when the kids no longer get along? Don’t use your kids to boost your social life. When the kids get to 3rd or 4th grade, you can start to have smaller birthday parties. However, the well-liked child will continue to invite everyone. It is just the right thing to do. If you don’t teach your child empathy and social skills, they will never learn them for someone else. If finances are a factor, it really isn’t that difficult to scale-down the expenses.

  8. kristina permalink
    December 14, 2012

    My kids arent in school yet.. but as a kid who always invited all of her classmates to parties and had about two of them show up.. it also sucks. ๐Ÿ™ my mom rented out a pool for 30 kids so three of us could swim. I think its reasonable to only invite the kids you know will show up.

  9. Belle permalink
    December 17, 2012

    Ahh the birthday party conversation. We’ve done the big party all-kids in Pre-K, the no party in K, and the all boys and only close friends party in 1st grade. Once he started elementary school we were advised to invite all or none. To be honest, now with him in second grade, I can honestly say only a handful of parents follow that suggestion. We did the all boy birthday party at a rock climbing gym last year and we didn’t invite all the boys in his class, maybe a dozen of the ones he plays with. No one noticed who was missing and who wasn’t. I think by 1st grade and beyond the kids start forming their tight group of friends and most families start paring down the guest list to just their children’s close friends. All of the parties recently at school have been all boys or all girls, which makes it easier to plan. I’ve heard many of the girl parties have been “teas” or cake decorating, etc. I dunno any 7 year old boy who’d want to participate in that.

    With two classes totaling almost 60 kids in O’s grade, all the parents struggled with the invite-all concept. And with that many kids we also found that there was a birthday party almost every single weekend. A solution many of the parents agreed with last year: a joint birthday party for all the kids celebrating a birthday for that month. They hired their school phys. ed coach for the two hours and had them doing obstacle courses, relays, etc. in the park a couple miles away from school on one of our 1/2 day Fridays. The parents chipped in with pizza, the whole class was invited, and instead of gifts for the birthday celebrants they asked invitees to donate a book to the school library. What a great idea! The kids ran amok in the park, ate cake, pizza, and the school received at least 40 new books!

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