Raising a Gracious Host

At their own birthday parties, kids may find it difficult to focus on whether their friends are having fun. Preparing your child to be a good host can help everyone enjoy the day.

Lesley Gore may have sang, “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to,” but really, who wants their child to have a meltdown at her own birthday bash?

In truth, it happens frequently. Emotions and expectations are high, and it’s easy for seemingly small frustrations to send a child to go into full tantrum mode even when—or maybe especially when—he is the center of attention, receiving well wishes and gifts at his much-anticipated party.

Perhaps the birthday girl received the “wrong” present or maybe she didn’t win the game or get the first slice of cake. Whatever it is, it’s important not to let this challenging moment derail the party or ruin the festivities. And, perhaps more importantly, parents can prepare their kids not just for the fun and excitement of their birthday, but for playing the role of host at their party. Setting expectations for this “job” and helping your child think through the responsibilities it entails can go a long way toward ensuring everyone has a great time, hosts and guests alike—and that your child will learn an important lesson on how to treat her friends and show concern for their feelings. 

Birthday girls and boys set the tone for how their party guests will behave. In order to have a successful party, it boils down to two concepts: have good manners and be gracious.

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Before the Party

Though it’s your child’s special day, that does not mean he can forget how to say “please” and “thank you,” or neglect the fact that his guests took the time to celebrate with them. Yes, a birthday only comes once a year, but good manners should be exhibited every day of the year—and children need that little nudge to remind them of this. 

Birthday party experts Jodi Levine, founder and owner of Jodi’s Gym in Mount Kisco and the Upper East Side, and Michelle Sperry, owner of Fleur de Lis Academy in Norwalk, agree that the fundamental quality of a good birthday party host is to mind his or her manners. This all starts before the party even begins. 

Both Levine and Sperry say that good manners should be enforced and practiced well before the party starts with parents. Consider running through a pretend party to go over how to be polite so the actual party will run smoothly.

Even a response to a guest’s RSVP is important. Faye de Muyshondt—

author of socialsklz:-) for Success: How to Give Children the Skills They Need to Thrive in the Modern World and founder of the New York City etiquette school socialsklz:-)—says that we often leave people hanging once they say they can or cannot attend your party. “[Respond to a guest’s RSVP] within a week and ask your child to do it via phone or email, starting out with an expression of gratitude,” de Muyshondt says.

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At the Party

It is essential for hosts to greet all guests one by one, including their parents, when they walk in and when they leave the party. “If [children] can’t do it on their own, they should be doing it together with the parent,” Levine says, “like, ‘We are so happy you came.’”

A good birthday party host is social and mingles with everyone, especially if the entire class is invited. He should greet everyone (even the kid that may pick his nose) instead of clinging to his core group of one or two friends. “That sounds like common sense for an adult, but for a child, [it’s difficult] to ask them to be social to everybody at the party,” Sperry says, “Because remember, it’s their birthday party and children are very egocentric.”

It may help to create a seating chart, but it is helpful to make sure the birthday girl or boy is sitting at the head of the table to avoid any conflicts of guests saying, “I want to sit by the birthday boy/girl!”

Sperry also advises that children should not show up to their own birthday parties on an empty stomach because it’s not always clear when the food will be served. The last thing anyone would want is a host that is “hangry.” “If you want them to have a successful party, you will send them when they are not craving and hungry and coming up and asking for food,” Sperry says.

When it is time to open presents, it is very important that the birthday child knows how to be gracious and will not hurt her guests’ feelings if she does not like a gift. Levine recommends saving gift opening for after the party to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.

After the Party

When the party is over, it is critical for the birthday boy to personally thank everyone that made the party possible, including employees of the birthday party venue, and musicians, clowns, and any other entertainers—anyone who took the time to make the party special. “Sometimes in this quick world, parents can forget to teach [being grateful] to their children or to remind them,” Levine says. “It’s a constant until it actually sinks in.”

So when should parents start teaching their children good manners? When they are young, Sperry, de Muyshondt, and Levine agree, even as early as the time a child is born. “I think we as adults have a responsibility to teach them, and the best way to teach is to be a good role model, and we are in fact a good role model from the second our children are born,” Sperry says.


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