Party do’s — and we’re talking etiquette, not hairstyles

group of children at birthday party
Teach your child to consider the birthday boy or girl’s interests and pick a present that’s fitting — rather than something your child would like. iStock.

Since school started in August, our coveted weekends have been filled with birthday parties. But that’s OK, because who doesn’t love a party?

I enjoy watching my son and daughter getting excited to celebrate their best buddies’ and classmates’ special days. But I have to confess, I’ve witnessed and overheard some pretty interesting birthday scenarios — everything from the last-minute invite to the meal-time parties that serve no food.

Questions about what’s OK as a host or a guest lead me to local etiquette expert SueAnn Brown, owner of It’s All About Etiquette.

Full disclosure: The biggest takeaway from my crash course is that I’ve been going about it all wrong! I’ve been thinking about these birthday parties from a parent’s perspective. Brown says I should be using these celebrations as an opportunity to teach my children life lessons about respect, value and integrity. Here are her do’s for both hosting and attending:

5 do’s as a host

1. Stick to a guest list. Really make your birthday boy or girl think about who he or she wants to invite. Try not to single kids out; be sure to include the whole class, team or troop. Also, remind your child not to talk about the party in front of anyone who may not be invited.

2. Send detailed invitations well in advance. Send invitations two to three weeks before the party date. In addition to the party date and time, include who is invited (entire family and/or siblings) and specify the party schedule/duration so parents know if they should drop off or stay with their child. Specify whether food will be served.

3. Engage the children. The birthday boy or girl should greet each guest as he or she arrives and introduce guests to one another.

4. Open the gifts. Plan a time for your child to open his or her gifts in front of friends (and parents) who have spent the time and money to choose them. Prepare the birthday boy/girl to read cards before they open each gift and to say one positive thing about each gift as they open it.

5. Send thank yous. Help your child (who’s now one year older) take the time to handwrite a note of gratitude to guests for attending the party and giving a gift.

Think of birthday parties as opportunities to teach manners. iStock.

5 do’s as a guest

1. RSVP. This acronym stands for respondez s’il vous plaît — a French phrase meaning “please respond.” Notify the host as soon as possible whether your child will be attending. It is also important to teach your child to stick to that reply. Don’t let children be wishy-washy guests who change their minds at the last second.

2. Find a gift that fits the recipient. Remember, gifts don’t have to be expensive. It really is the thought that counts. Teach your child to consider the birthday boy or girl’s interests and pick a present that’s fitting — rather than something your child would like.

3. Participate. If the party is themed, prepare your child: It’s polite to dress and participate (with a positive attitude) in all the games and activities — even if the theme is not your child’s cup of tea.

4. Be respectful. This sounds simple, but remind your children to keep comments to themselves if they don’t like the food being served. Also, be respectful of people’s homes (or the party venue) by throwing away trash  and staying out of rooms that are off-limits.

5. Say thank you. Have your partygoer thank the parents and the birthday child before leaving the party.

These simple etiquette tips give me hope: If my children follow them, they’ll no doubt be invited to plenty more birthday parties in the future.