How to Plan for Other Parents & Adults at a Kids' Birthday Party

adults at a kids birthday party

With kid birthday parties, hosts tend to bend over backward to make sure the kids are happy, pulling out piñatas and puppet shows, bouncy houses and gift bags. Amid all these kid-pleasing efforts, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that adults make an appearance at these events too and need to be treated with some TLC. To help you traverse this oft-overlooked demographic of guests, here are some etiquette rules to keep in mind for the older attendees.

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1. DO invite dropoff for older kids. Trust us, provided the kids are old enough to fend for themselves, most parents will LOVE the fact that they don't have to hang around and play pin the tail on the donkey. "My friend was just telling me the other day how ecstatic she was when her kids reached 'drop-off' age," says Christine Landry at Retrouette, a modern guide to etiquette. "I've heard parents discuss how exhausting it can be to keep up with their child's social schedule. A little bit of free time may be very much appreciated." In fact, "For kids older than 6, I doubt many parents would want to be invited," adds Brenda Priddy, a family and etiquette expert at Schooling a Monkey. "They would probably be more likely to feel offended by a request to come than to drop off!"

2. DON'T invite dropoff for younger kids. "If the party is for children under age 6, I don't think dropoff parties are a good idea," says Priddy. Think about it: At this age, kids might freak if mom isn't around; parents might also worry that having just the host or a handful of adults watching so many kids could be dangerous. "I would say all parties for children under 6 should be adults-included, as well as any parties that take place in a public place like a bowling alley," says Priddy. Pool parties are another time to consider having parents stay. "Children are likely to be at different swimming comfort levels and having parents around can be helpful in this instance," says Landry.

3. DO let parents choose what they want to do. For borderline ages or situations where parents aren't sure how their kids will react to a dropoff, it can be a godsend if the host makes it clear that parents can play it by ear. "The best way to handle this would be to add the words, 'dropoff optional' on the invitation," says event planner Simone Jones Tyner. "Then parents can make the decision to stay if they feel more comfortable or leave if they want a few hours to themselves." Or, "the parent can stay at the venue or head somewhere nearby so in case of emergency, they can come back," adds Jodi Smith at Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting.

4. DON'T invite adults without kids unless they're close. "It depends on the person," says Landry. "A child's godmother may very much want to participate in their birthday, but others with less a tie to the child may not be interested." By and large, adults without kids are likely to be bored. "If they like you enough, they will probably come anyway," says Priddy. Still, why put your pals in that predicament? Make it clear that their attendance is optional to give them an out.

5. DO feed the adults. "If you have invited adults, it's rude not to feed them something," says Tyner. So make sure to have more than just juice boxes and pass pieces of cake to parents, too. "How much food depends on the hour of the party," says Landry. "If it's lunchtime, then you'll need enough food for a meal for both parents and children. But if it isn't mealtime, you can get away with lighter fare."

6. DON'T feel pressure to offer separate fare for adults. If adults do hang, "they should expect to eat what is being served to the kids," says Smith. "If you are feeling rather Martha Stewart, then go ahead and whip up a gourmet feast. But you are under no obligation to do so." Or better yet, aim for something both would like. 

7. DON'T feel obligated to serve alcohol. "I think it is the adults' responsibility to keep a sharp mind around children," says Priddy. As a result, in the vast majority of cases, there should not be alcohol at a child's birthday party. Yet there are exceptions. "If it is a party for a 1-year-old, during a BBQ, or at dinnertime, and the guest of honor is the only child there, then those can be appropriate times to serve alcohol," says Smith. Or go the middle road where you offer some alcohol but not a full bar. "Stick to basics, like beer or wine or a pre-made specialty drink that won't pique the interest of the children," suggests Landry. "Sangria with lots of fruit floating in it may look too much like punch to kids. And be careful how you serve alcohol. Avoid sticking cans and bottles in a drink tin alongside juice boxes."

What etiquette rule do you observe with adults at a kids' birthday party?


Image via Jordi Payà/Flickr

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