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Etiquette and Advice from the Emily Post Institute

Children’s Birthday Party Q&A

Q.  My son Jake, who’s seven, just told me that he "hates" a classmate whom we’ve invited to his birthday party. Jake says this child is a bully and mean to everybody. Is there a way to take back our invitation?

A. No. Once given, an invitation cannot be retracted – unless the party is cancelled. Constant adult supervision will be the duty of the day. Before the party, talk to your son about his duties as host and encourage him to be polite to the boy. This boy may be a wonderful party guest – only time and good manners will tell.
Q. My five-year old has been invited to her first big birthday party. How should I prepare her?

A. She’ll have a wonderful time if you help her to do the following:
  • Have her arrive on time.
  • Teach her how to greet the host and host parents courteously.
  • Tell her to respect the host’s home: no climbing on furniture, talking back to adults, wrestling, trespassing in off-limits places.
  • Make sure she knows to accept the food that is served. If she doesn’t like hot dogs or vanilla cake, she can still accept them and take a polite bit or two. If she has a very strong food aversion or allergy, she can simply say "No thank you."
  • She should participate in all games and activities. Talk to her about being a good sport. If for some reason she can’t participate in an activity, she should be an enthusiastic spectator.
  • Remind her to thank the host and host parents when she is leaving.
  • And as for you, the parent, make sure to pick your child up on time.
Q.  I’m so busy. It seems like these children’s birthday parties just pop up out of nowhere and I have no time to buy a gift for my child to bring. Is cash in an envelope ok?

A. It’s important to consider the wishes of the parents and the norm among the child’s peers. Gifts of money may disappoint young children who would rather get games and toys. However, middle-schoolers and teenagers would probably be thrilled with cash on the barrelhead. So, consider your audience. Tip: Keep a few age-appropriate gifts on hand so that you don’t have to run out at the last minute.
Q.  Help! Sweet-sixteen birthday parties seem to be on par with an upscale wedding receptions these days. My daughter watches a show about these parties on MTV and always says that she wants her sixteenth to be “like that.” What should I do?

A. Sounds like you need to provide a cushion for her fall. Sixteen is old enough to be mature about money constraints and family ethics. Talk to her about what would be special to her. She will probably say something like, “I want all my friends there and we have to have non-stop pizza and a DJ.” That might be do-able; and if not, you’ll have to negotiate from there. Let her make some of the phone calls to get pricing information, availability, etc. Make sure she understands the budget. If you want to throw a surprise party, have her best friends help you out so you can make sure to have some elements that she will really be thrilled with – if not the 20 passenger Hummer H2 with plasma TV and disco ball.

About the
Emily Post Institute
The Emily Post Institute, created by Emily in 1946 and run today by third generation family members, serves as a "civility barometer" for American society and continues Emily's work. That work has grown to address the societal concerns of the 21st century including business etiquette, raising polite children and civility in America.
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