How do kids' birthday parties work, anyway?

July 16, 2018


Theo is turning 4 in a few weeks (sob!) which means I need to plan another kid's birthday party. Let me just take this moment to say that I do not understand the ins and outs of kids' birthday parties at all. A few of the many thoughts that plague me when it comes to children's birthday parties are as follows:

  • What is a good price point for a child's birthday present? $10? $20? Does that include the gift bag and tissue I wind up buying every time?
  • Why does everyone bring gifts, even if the invitation says "no gifts please"?
  • Why do party favors exist?! Kids fight over them, they break and then parents throw it all in the garbage while the kids are either not looking or sleeping.
  • What about dietary restrictions?
  • Am I the only one who thinks it would be more polite to open the presents after everyone has left?
  • Is it weird that when given the option, I choose to drop my child off rather than stay the whole party?
  • If adults are expected to stay, why aren't there more adult beverages? (And why don't people accept them when offered at mine?)
  • Why do we fuss about anyway beyond making our child feel loved, celebrated and letting them eat cake?

After all, that is all children really care about on their birthday anyway. They want to feel loved (surrounded by friends and family and loved ones), celebrated (fun and games and yes, some presents all for them!) and finally, they want to eat cake (naturally!). Alright, that is all for now. I'm off to work out what will make Theo feel all of those things. And then I've got some invitations to send!

How do you feel about kids' birthday parties? ;)

Join the conversation!

  1. We avoid presents at birthday parties we host by asking for kids to bring a food bank donation instead. This redirects the present energy better than a no presents party. We also do not have a party every year. Usually we do a special activity and a birthday cake with family. For party years, we do old fashioned party games plus decorate your own cupcake. No themes, no party bags, no weird cakes that look like this year's favourite whatever. The only "parting gift" we've ever kept was someone who gave out baby Schleich animals. That was awesome but only affordable for a small party. If you need a transition treat for very young kids, I stick with something edible since no one I know needs or wants the dollar store plastic stuff and I hate that it's almost become a cultural habit.

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    1. Thoughts on presents we give... I have a few go-to gifts and generally spend $10 max (10€ was the price point when we lived in Amsterdam). If we know the age or interests well, then a book or art supplies. Otherwise a gift certificate for a local ice cream shop has been good. I also have given out a LOT of copies of the Go Find It nature scavenger hunt card game.

      For wrapping, I wrap it in brown kraft paper and then have my kids decorate it with markers and stickers. Recyclable, cheap, and personalized.

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    2. I LOVE the ice cream shop idea. There is the sweetest ice cream shop called The Scoop right across the street from Coco's school. http://www.thescoopspokane.com So perfect. Thank you for mentioning that. I'll definitely be doing that. :)

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  2. We recently moved to Italy, where I learned about the wonderful way they do kid parties here (after embarrassingly handing the mom a garish, sparkly pink gift bag and she looked at me like I was nuts). You give about €5 to the designated "gift" collector -- the parent or a friend of the parent -- and they pool the money after the party to buy the child one or two nice gifts. Parents are expected to stay for the party, but there are definitely adult beverages to make this more palatable. We will likely only be here for 4 years (::sob::), and since my kid is about to turn 1, I definitely plan to take this party method back to the U.S. with us. It's a great way for the attendees to not stress about gift buying, and the birthday kid doesn't get a bunch of things he/she doesn't need or necessarily even want.

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    1. That is a fabulous idea! I would love to get something like that started here, but I have no idea how it would be received. That's the funny thing about living abroad; things will seem so logical and nice to you and then people think you're a nutter! Please let me know in four years if you manage to bring the Italian birthday tradition stateside. xoxo

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    2. I'm totally okay with people thinking I'm a nutter -- that's pretty much par for the course anyway. Ha! The problem will be explaining to my kid why she might only get one really nice gift *after* the party while her friends get stacks of gifts at theirs! ;)

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    3. You're going to be the most successful repat ever! :) I'm sure the one nice big gift will be better all around. xx

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  3. My oldest will turn 4 in a couple of weeks and I'm planning to have a little party at a playground. Order pizzas, lemonade and make a donut cake! No parting gift. I wonder if that will look too weird for parents here in the U.S...

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    1. I just had a playground party for my 7 year old. We had pizza, cake, and juice boxes, and cold brew coffee for parents. Overall, it was a smashing success. I did have a small parting gift: pencils and water guns, since it was a ridiculously hot day. In fact, playground/park parties are very common in Boston, especially in the summer months.

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    2. We have had every single one of Theo's party at the playground with the splash pad - and we're doing it again this year! Ha. It's just too good to beat with a summer birthday. Here's his first birthday, if you'd like to take a peek: http://www.swisslark.com/2015/08/theos-1st-birthday-party.html I can't believe how tiny he was. Sniff!

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  4. Great timing! My daughter had her birthday party for her 4th birthday just yesterday. Here in Germany birthday parties are a huge thing and for me, they involve a lot of stress and worries beforehand... BUT, for my own kids, I try to keep it as simple as possible. My daughter asked for a "tiger birthday" so we made some very simple invitations from toilet paper rolls and on the actual day had a searching game (the kids had to look for little plastic animals according to each animal's natural habitat) in the backyard and then a scanvenger hunt around the block, other than that the kids just played in the kiddie pool and jumped on the trampoline.
    Birthday parties here usually don't involve the parents after kids turn 3 or 4 which is a great relief to me, both as a host and a parent! Onöy if a child is really shy a parents sometimes accompanies them.
    Gifts are usually around 10€ but parents often pool the money to buy something bigger. At least that seems to be the way it's done around our kindergarten.
    I personally hate party favors, but there doesn't really seem a way around them here. Sometimes parents really go overboard and my kids came home with something that must have been worth more than the gift they brought, like wooden swords or treasure chests.
    What beats me is how much money parents spend on the actual parties sometimes. My son has been to three parties that were organized by companies specializing in kids' birthday parties. He loved them but I thought it was way over the top.
    Also, I hate it how inviting kids and (not) being invited cause so much grief for children. Of course you can't invite the whole class but I hate seeing my child being excluded, especially since invitations often become a means of blackmail here ("If you do this or that, I will/won't invite you to my birthday party!").
    I love reading about how these things are done in different parts of the world!Thank you so much, Lindsey!
    Also, a bit late but from the heart: So good to have you back!
    Best wishes
    Meike

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    1. Oh goodness, event planners for children's birthday parties is just wrong. I'm sorry. It is. We're doing Theo's party at the park again. The kids can splash and play and we'll provide pizza, refreshments and cake. Hopefully everyone will have a nice time. The temperatures here have been HOT - 33 to 37 for the foreseeable future! Here's a link to Theo's first birthday if you have any inclination: http://www.swisslark.com/2015/08/theos-1st-birthday-party.html My god he was cute.

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  5. Thoughts on parties... This is the first year I let my kid receive gifts (in the past I always wrote "No gifts" and that has been respected for the most part.) She has been to enough parties now where there were presents I felt really guilty telling her no. However, I told her IF she wanted presents, then she would have to write everyone a thank you note. Which she did. So I consider that a win. Also, most people gave her books, so another win! (Also, I always give books, bought from our neighborhood bookstore, whenever we go to a presents party.) Re: stay vs don't stay, I've been to both lately. This year, since my daughter wanted to invite her entire class plus her non-school friends and we had our party in a public park , I asked for parents to stay because I did not want to be responsible for so many kids without some help. Re:inviting 25 kids, I could have forced her to pick and choose among her classmates, but I thought it was really nice that she wanted to include everyone. Re:adult drinks, I always serve adult drinks when we host a party at our house. Finally, re:party favors, I hear you on the junk factor. This year, because they seem to be the norm, we gave everyone pencils (since they have just completed 1st grade) and water guns, which, not surprisingly, were really popular. Even among the parents.

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    1. Thank you notes are so important. I basically was a PRO at them and took etiquette very seriously until I had my second child and then I was like, I can't even keep my house in order or get my bills paid! Thank god for online banking autopay. HA! Totally not kidding. But I think we're out of the woods with Theo turning four and getting back to thank you notes sounds like a plan! Thank you for that. Oh, and we're definitely encouraging parents to stay at Theo's party this year and supervise their kids in the splash pad. Way safer than a pool, but still needs some supervision! xoxo

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    2. I am a Southerner so I know a thing or two about thank you notes but I have always found that so unnecessary for a birthday gift. Maybe thats why its important to me that the gift be opened in front of the giver so the thank you is said immediately...

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  6. recently we've given out planted flowers & veggies as an alternative to a cheap trinket. we've also had painting parties and bought big canvas' which the kids get to keep their canvas (or do a paintable smock).

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    1. Oh how sweet! I love the idea of plants. Such a more thoughtful and useful gift. xoxo

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  7. I loathe expensive birthday parties and refuse to do anything but shoestring homespun ones. I actually do enjoy putting parties together so was semi heartbroken when Georgia informed me she did not want one this year. She said it was too overwhelming (so Swiss--ha). She wanted her best friend to come over, go to the trampoline park (shoot me) and have cake. She didn't even mind she'd miss out on ten or so gifts. It was so surprisingly pleasant! I still decorated and made the cake but it was all so low key and she felt just as special.

    I kind of have a pet peeve about humble birthdays. LOL. Saying no gifts is fine but the ones where they say bring so and so to donate to the local so and so. Too Portlandia.

    I actually think its kind of rude to not open the gifts at the party! Ha. In my opinion it takes away from the child acknowledging the gift and the social training of others having to watch it being opened and then being thanked. The drop the gift on the table style seems like a ticket entry.

    I rarely pay more than 10.00 for a gift, maybe 15.00 if its a good friend : )

    I drop my kids like hot potatoes if its stated on the invite that parents are not required.

    Party favors are fun for kids but lame and wasteful. I still do it because I like to come up with cute things on Pinterest but its usually something edible rather than toss able.

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    1. I do agree with you on the thanking bit when opening the presents at the party. With toddlers, it is a bit hairy and can be awkward for the watchers to understand that all the presents are for the birthday child. But maybe as they get older... This fall, I highly doubt Coco will have the patience to wait and open at home. ;)

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    2. Oh yeah, all bets are off if we are talking about toddlers for sure! And come to think of it, I don't think Eli has attended a birthday party yet to test his non-existent Happy For You skills. LOL.

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