“Do I Have to Invite the Whole Class?” The 7 Rules of Kids’ Birthday Parties in 2024

From invite lists to goody bags

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Once your children are old enough to make a guest list and have activity demands, hosting a birthday party becomes a lot more complex. (Remember the good old days, when you could get a cake and a pitcher of sangria for grownups and call it a day?) After all, no one wants to exclude kiddos from attending, but as class sizes increase—and close friendships bloom—party planning becomes more nuanced. So, in 2024, how can parents keep an eye on inclusivity while staying true to their kid’s birthday wishes and the family budget? We checked in with etiquette expert Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette, to find out. 

About the Expert

Myka Meier is the founder of Beaumont Etiquette, which offers both adults and kids courses in American, British and Continental European etiquette. She’s also the author of Modern Etiquette Made Easy: A Five-Step Method to Mastering Etiquette.

1. No, You Don’t Have to Invite the Whole Class

In a perfect world, you could host every party at a public playground and be done with it. But there are all sorts of reasons why this might not be feasible: weather, time of year, a kid’s request to party at the local roller rink. That’s why Meier says it’s completely acceptable to edit the birthday guest list. “Class sizes are huge and, in a lot of places, families simply don’t have big backyards or giant living rooms where they can host a crowd,” Meier says. “This can create a situation where all the options feel hard—i.e. you can choose not to throw a party, shell out thousands to rent a space and include everyone or [cut down on size] and potentially hurt someone. It’s tough.” Meier has a better idea: “With a class size of 20+ kids, it’s OK to edit the list. What isn’t OK is if there are 20 kids in the class and you invite 15 of them. In other words, you include the majority, but leave only a few out.” The right approach here would be to invite a handful of kids from school, a few from gymnastics class, a few family friends, etc. so there’s a balance. And no matter what, do not hand invites out at school. “Email the parents instead,” Meier says.

2. Be Up Front About the Sibling Policy (And If You’re the Guest, Don’t Bring an Uninvited One)

Ideally, this is communicated when you send the invite: Either brothers and sisters are welcome…or they’re not. “You can do this right from the start by simply stating it in the invitation,” Meier says, maybe with a line like, “Due to the size of the space, we are unable to include siblings at this celebration. Thanks for understanding!” On the flip side, if your kid is the guest, never assume your other children are invited. Unless it’s clearly stated that siblings can come, don't bring one, as hosts often have a hard cutoff number or are paying a rental space per child.

3. It’s OK to Say “No Presents”

Look, we all have enough stuff, and if “no presents, just your presence” is on an invite, honor that request. (A lot of parents still end up bringing something as a kind gesture, but if you do, keep it small.) But let’s say you said “no gifts” and got some anyway. Do your best to take note of who gave what and be gracious. “Whether gifts are expected or your kid opens them before or after the party, it is customary—and kind—to send a thank you note,” Meier says. And these notes don't have to be labor-intensive—a text with a pic of your child holding their gift is great. That said, if you want to send a handwritten note, go for it. “Depending on the age, the parent can write the whole thing and have the child color a picture in the card or simply write their name at the bottom—both options work,” says the etiquette expert.

4. Always Ask About Dietary Restrictions

Snacks, pizza, cake—that’s the birthday routine we know. But in 2024, parents should make a point to collect allergy info as part of their requested RSVP. “The last thing you want is a child feeling left out or, worse, having an allergic reaction,” Meier says. Conversely, if your child is the one with the allergy, it can be generous to offer to send them with their own meal or cupcake. That way, the hosts don’t have to figure out alternate arrangements.

5. You Don’t *Need* Party Favors

If you want to distribute goody bags, go forth! Have fun! But if they feel like a pain, it’s OK to skip them or opt for an activity that results in a fun thing to bring home; for example, a cool craft or matching T-shirts. We love the idea of a “photo booth” with an Instax camera so every guest can get a pic with the birthday kid. “If you do decide to provide goody bags, prioritize keeping them inexpensive and fun,” Meier says. “Think coloring books, bubbles or DIY craft kits. It’s about the gesture, not the price tag.”

6. If the Party Is Drop-Off, Make Sure You Have Everyone’s Contact Info

As our kids grow, drop-off parties become the norm. (Wahoo!) That said, you need to state this clearly on the invite and you need to have the contact info of a reachable grownup for every child. “It’s also important to clearly state the duration of the party so that parents can plan their day and pick up their kids punctually,” Meier says. To that end, if your child is the one attending the party, don’t be late getting them. After all, nobody wants to make the birthday family wait any longer than they have to in the Chuck E. Cheese parking lot.

7. And Remember that a Good Sleepover Party is All About Communication

These days, not all kids (and parents) are comfortable with sleepovers, and Meier says it’s perfectly OK to be up front about that. First, she suggests, checking in with your child about their readiness and giving them an out if they don’t want to go. For example, many families are opting to make it a sleep-under, where kids get in pajamas and party until just before bedtime, at which point they go home. That said, if your child is hosting or attending a proper sleepover, make sure you have the other parents’ contact details and an agreement about what to do if something happens in the middle of the night. (Will you leave your phones on? Are 1 am pickup pleas forbidden?) Meier also recommends taking a few extra minutes to chat with the other adults upon arrival, which can be a good moment to talk about allergies or medicines and instructions for how to use them.

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