Birthday Do's & Don'ts
Everything you need to know, whether you're throwing or attending the bash
An outdoor pirate party seemed like a good idea at the time. Rosie Zweiback drew up a list of ten invitees, created a treasure hunt, and felt certain that a jolly time would be had by all -- especially her 4-year-old, Joseph, who loved pirates.
The big day dawned bright and sunny in their Princeton, New Jersey, neighborhood, and all the guests showed up. So did their parents and siblings. There was a crush of kids tearing around, looking for booty. Little Joe, outgunned and overwhelmed, sat down and lost the battle against his tears. "Who invited all these people?" he wailed.
"We comforted him and made sure he was the leader of the group looking for treasure, and the party went on," says Zweiback. "But all his enthusiasm was gone for the remainder of the day."
Birthday parties can be a wild-card venture. We know that there are rules for hosting and attending them, but what are they exactly? Do you have to invite everyone in your child's class? Shouldn't your close friend just assume that your child will come to her kid's bash without an RSVP? Are goody bags, or thank-you notes, necessary? Some answers to moms' most-asked questions:
Getting the party started
Q. What's the best age to start throwing a birthday party?
A. Honestly? Around 4 or 5. By then, a child has friends, a distinct taste in toys, and some experience with cake and ice cream.
Of course, few of us can hold out this long. So if you must have a party for your 1-year-old, go ahead. Just make sure there are lots of grown-up food and drinks, and don't expect the birthday baby to be very interested. (He's also likely to get grumpy with so many people clamoring around him.)
Brigid Galloway of Grantville, Georgia, couldn't resist throwing a huge bash when her son, Jack, turned 1. Some 50 friends and family came, but it was too much for Jack, who cried through the puppet show and wouldn't touch his cake. "Everyone had a great time -- except for Jack!" says Galloway.
She learned the hard way that for a more pleasant celebration, it's smart to keep the attention off your baby and work around his nap and feeding schedules.
For her daughter Lulu's first birthday, Julia Regalado of Berkeley, California, decided on a picnic in a local park for 12 of her friends and their kids. She made sure Lulu stayed blissfully unaware of any extra attention. As Regalado nursed her daughter to sleep under a tree after lunch, the guests offered a hope for Lulu's future in lieu of gifts. "There were no meltdowns, everyone had a good time, and it was such a satisfying way to mark the day," she says.
Simplicity remains the rule for 2- and 3-year-olds too: You might offer cupcakes -- the perfect-size confection for little ones -- with cardboard Blue's Clues characters stuck on them. (Check your local stationery or party store.) They'll appreciate more elaborate parties with themes and planned activities later on.
Q. How many kids should I invite?
A. The general rule, often ignored: age plus one. That means four friends for a 3-year-old's birthday. For toddlers, it's best to invite at least one friend she sees a lot and feels comfortable around. (If your child goes to daycare or preschool and is used to being with a large group of kids, she can probably handle a few additional guests.)
On the other hand, grade-schoolers have definite ideas of whom they want to invite, so you can use the opportunity to teach them to be considerate of others' feelings. Explain why inviting 10 out of 12 kids in the class is bad form. Better to invite everyone and hope for some no-shows. Inviting 4 out of 12 kids, however, is more a matter of discretion and will work better if the bash isn't held immediately after school. Teach your child not to talk about her upcoming party around those she didn't invite (and then cross your fingers).
Q. My child went to Megan's party. Do I have to reciprocate and invite her?
A. It depends on how old your child is and whether they're actually friends. As kids get older, they become aware of where they stand in the social pecking order, so it's best to invite Megan if your child spends time with her on a regular basis. But you needn't reciprocate for every acquaintance. You already bought a gift for each child's party, so your social obligation has been fulfilled.
What if your child's the one who's been snubbed? Gently explain that there wasn't enough space at the party or that it was limited to very special friends. Then soften the blow by taking him to the playground or doing another fun activity.