Every year we grow a little older. And when we are children, this is fun. That’s because of birthday parties. And if you are planning a party for your child, you know that you can’t open the gifts, cut the cake or get to that magical singing-over-the-candles moment unless you’ve sent out the invitations.
Here, then, are a few parenting tips to help you do that with maximum etiquette and minimum fuss.
Invitations for your average, relatively casual children’s party should go out at least two weeks before the celebration, according to local manners experts. Send invites for more formal or elaborate affairs as much as two months in advance to help with party planning.
Along with the name of the birthday child, date, time and address of the party, the invitation should include everything people will need to know so they can come and enjoy the day. “You just want to make it easy on your guests,” says Lisa Gache, CEO of Beverly Hills Manners.
Information To Include
First, be clear about exactly who you are inviting to the party. If entire families are welcome, say so. If you are inviting only a single child from the family, list only that child’s name on the envelope and invitation. If you’d like parents to drop their children off at the party, Rachel Isgar of Please Pass The Manners in El Segundo recommends using a phrase such as “drop-off preferred” or “drop-off requested.”
Mentioning the theme of the party on the invitation will help guests know what to expect, how to dress and what they might need to bring with them. Is this a formal tea party where guests should wear their frilly best, or a pool party where they will need a bathing suit and towel? Is the party outdoors, so that kids might need a coat or sunscreen? Will there be a bounce house, laser tag, a zombie costume contest? Let guests know and they will have more fun.
Because gift giving at birthday parties – even children’s parties – isn’t always a given, letting guests know if you don’t want them to bring presents will help avoid embarrassment. “It feels just as uncomfortable to show up with a gift when you’re not supposed to, as to show up without one when you are,” says Daryl Twerdahl, founder of The Los Angeles School of Etiquette. If the birthday child is asking for charitable donations instead of gifts, adding this information will help guests be prepared.
Ask your guests to RSVP and give them a deadline of five days before the party, or sooner if you are working with a venue that requires a head count farther in advance. Include your name or the name of the person guests should contact, and list a phone number and/or email address.
Finally, let guests know what time the party will end. It will make them more likely to arrive on time. “If it’s open-ended, then people may show up later and miss something that’s important to the party,” says Gache.
Guidelines about what to include on party invitations that you send by mail also apply to Evites and other forms of electronic invitations. Isgar suggests writing out all of the necessary information before you begin creating your electronic invitation, because once you start working with the template it is easy to forget details. She also recommends testing the invite by sending one to yourself or someone else in the family first, to make sure it goes through correctly.
Twerdahl reminds parents to take advantage of the option to “hide” the guest list, which is available on most electronic invitation platforms. “It feels a little more polite to me,” she says.
And while she, Isgar and Gache agree that electronic invitations are just fine, Gache points out that they can’t be saved as keepsakes the way a printed invitation can. “It’s special when you have an actual card,” she says. “And they’re more exciting. It sets the tone for the party.” Even if you’re only planning to email a few friends and family members about a small gathering, Gache recommends adding a photo of your child or “something fun that makes it look special, anything just to add a little pizzazz.”
Setting the Guest List
Putting together the guest list can be relatively simple if you want to invite your child’s entire class at school, but trickier if you want to pick and choose. One polite way to trim the list is to invite only the boys in the class, or only the girls. Another option is to keep the guest list small. “As long as you keep it under five students, you’re safe,” says Gache. If you go this route, she suggests contacting the parents of the children you plan to invite by email or phone to let them know the invitation is coming, and to ask them to keep things discrete because not everyone is invited.
What you can’t do is exclude just one or two children. If there is a child in the class your child doesn’t want to invite, Isgar suggests extending an invitation anyway. It is possible that a child who doesn’t get along with yours won’t want to come to the party (though Isgar says you should be ready to welcome any child who shows up).
Whether you are inviting an entire third-grade class or just a handful of friends, it isn’t a good idea to try to send party invitations through the school. With the state of many children’s backpacks, you can’t be certain the cards will make it safely home. This means you will need contact information for your guests. Ask your child’s teacher whether he or she will help you get in touch with parents.
Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are with invitations, information and RSVP guidelines, sometimes things don’t go smoothly.
If people fail to RSVP, for instance, it is your job as host to graciously track them down so that you have the most accurate head count possible.
And on party day, if a child arrives whose parents did not RSVP, or if a parent brings along an uninvited sibling, “the best thing you can do is just roll with it and welcome them,” says Isgar. This will be easier if you arrange for a little extra food and a few extra party favors.
By the way, if your child is invited to a party, build up your party karma with a prompt RSVP. And if you find that you need to bring a sibling along because you are expected to stay at a party with your child and don’t have childcare, call or email the party host well in advance to ask whether it is OK to bring an extra child along. Offer to pay any extra costs.
If you, as party host, find yourself distracted because a parent who was supposed to drop her child off is lingering, don’t try to distract her with offers of food or drinks. Instead, Twerdahl suggests putting her to work, saying, “I’m so happy you’re staying because I really need the help.” Give her specific tasks to do, and get back to tending the party.
Another option, according to Isgar, is to gently move lingering parents along with the suggestion, “Why don’t you come back at the end of the party and have cake with us?”
Ideally, at the end of the party, you will be able to say that a good time was had by all – especially your child. And if there were bumps in the road, keep in mind a piece of advice from Twerdahl. “In general, it’s important for parents to remember that it’s the child’s party, and it should feel like a child’s party,” she says. “Simple is better.”
Christina Elston is Editor of L.A. Parent.