Kids’ parties: I’m making up the etiquette as I go

“My daughter has about 100 friends. And just the thought of that many children in one venue brings me out in hives.” Annie Ridout is struggling with kids’ party etiquette: invites, games, numbers. So she’s making up her own rules…

It’s coming up to my daughter’s fourth birthday and the panic is setting in. Kids are, on the whole, obsessed with parties; the best cuss in the school playground is ‘you’re not coming to my birthday party!”. So I can’t get away with suggesting we have a (shop-bought) cupcake with a single candle in and celebrate just the four of us.

But now that she’s got 40 friends from nursery, a few she’s still in contact from her last nursery, extended family, our friends who have kids, local families we spend time with… well, we’re already hitting about 100 kids. And just the thought of that many children in one venue brings me out in hives.

Plus, providing enough food, cake and games for that many children – and their parents and siblings – is beyond the birthday budget. Really, for a fourth birthday, I think spending £100 on her present(s) and a party is more than enough. But there’s no way to stay within budget if we invite everyone.

So, we’re thinking of ways to keep her birthday party simple, cheap and cheerful

As this – rather mundane – issue has dominated my thoughts for the past few weeks, I’ve come up with a few ideas that might help other parents in similar situations. Put simply, there are no rules when it comes to kids’ parties. But there are ways to get around over-spending, reduce invites and limit the length of time you’re entertaining children…

Single-sex parties

My daughter wants a fairy tea party in the garden. And she wants it to be girls only. Her choice, not mine. It’s gender-neutral in neither theme nor invites but sticking to this will reduce the children we have to invite by 50 per cent. It also excludes her brother and dad, but maybe she’ll make two exceptions.

It’s her party, not mine

I’d like to invite all my friends, particularly those who have kids so are possibly slightly less likely to balk at the idea of a kids’ party, but it’s not my birthday (well, actually, it is – the day before – but we’re having an adults’ night out). For my daughter’s birthday celebration, only her friends should come.

Stick to close friends

One day, she says she’s best friends with Mohammed, and the next day it’s Mabel. So working out who my daughter is actually friends with is tricky. But there are a little group of pals who she has playdates with, outside of school hours, so I guess these are her actual friends.


My daughter and I have had two joint parties: her first birthday and my 30th, then last year when I turned 32 and she turned three. The amount of presents she received was UNREAL. Incredibly generous, but actually far more than she needs. I kept a load back and introduced them slowly, through the year. This year, I’m making an online gift list so that she only gets useful/attractive presents.


It’s a numbers game

If I was hiring a huge hall, I’d want to fill it with kids: the whole class, all her friends, extended family, our friends. But we’re not. So we’re thinking more like six kids (girls), no extended family (feels a bit mean, but they understand) and possibly no siblings? (Again, feels a bit bad separating families but, you know… #numbers).


In Sharon Horgan’s recent comedy series Motherland, there are lots of funny conversations about whether the party is a ‘drop-off’ or not. Basically, do parents come too or just drop the kid and piss off? Maybe for my daughter’s ‘tiny fairy girls-only tea party’ we’ll at least offer the drop-off option. This makes it easier if there are siblings, and saves the parents from an afternoon of kids’ party doooooom.

Party bags

Never done them, never going to.


Last year, I bought a ready-wrapped ‘pass-the-parcel’ online. Lazy, I know. But I simply don’t have time to source and wrap individual pieces of plastic crap. The one I bought online was actually all wooden toys, but seeing one of them appear in another kids’ pass-the-parcel the following month made it clear that no kid cares about these ‘gifts’. All they want to do is run around, eat cake and scream, so… maybe no games? Oof. Making a big statement here, but feeling lighter already.

Have a start and end-time

Adult parties usually just have a start time: from 8pm, for example. But the best thing about kids’ parties is that they have an END TIME, too. It’s totally acceptable to write: tiny fairy girls-only tea party at our house, from 3-6pm. You could even put the 6pm in bold, just to drill it in.


We’re all online now, WhatsApp invites are perfectly adequate. And you’re saving the world’s resources by not using paper. (The environment is a fabulous excuse for so many party-related issues).

Social media

I don’t put my children’s faces on social media any more. It’s what my husband and I have decided feels right, and safe, for our family. So I’m going to ask that others don’t post photos of the party on social media too. It might sound a bit party-pooper-ish, but there’s lots of stuff about kids and consent doing the rounds. Also, it means the parents of kids who haven’t been invited are less likely to find out.

You’ll never please everyone

There will be people who think they should have been invited. There will be kids who prefer organised fun. There might be parents who want to drop the sibling, too. There might be tears when the child leaves empty-handed, wondering where the party bags are. There will probably be dirty looks at the school gates. But, you know, you can’t please everyone…

What are your thoughts on kids’ parties and etiquette?