Basic party etiquette helps kids get along together.

Kids' Party Etiquette

by Barrett Barlowe

No mother wants to be on the neighborhood mom's version of the "No-fly" list. Every child has a bad day occasionally, but when other children scatter every time your kid says, "Let's play dentist," or when moms secretly put away the pinata stick any time your kid gets up from his chair at birthday gatherings, it might be time to review your party etiquette.

1. Changing Times

The definition of good etiquette has evolved over time. For some moms, manner guides from the 1950s might read like instructions from another planet. Decades ago, addressing uncles and neighbors as "Sir" and "Mrs. Smith" might have been the standard. Kids using that language today will probably elicit stares and smiles. Up until the 1960s, parents expected children to behave like miniature adults at parties. During the 1960s, the trend became "let kids be kids." Parents became socially relaxed about the rules and started to include kids in the decision-making process. When parents encourage freedom of expression for their kids, reining them in at parties can be a challenge.

2. Different Settings

Kids behave best at parties that require little adherence to etiquette. Nothing tests a child's endurance more than uncomfortable suits and tight restrictive clothing--and a formal setting. When planning seating for a wedding or reception, parents can provide a separate kids table--overseen by a teen or young adult. Table manners vary widely, depending on what a child learns from her parents. Last-minute instructions do not work usually. As long as a kid knows to use utensils and knows not to attack fellow diners with them, that is probably adequate etiquette for the children-only table. Birthday parties can put a strain on a child's manners. Birthday celebrants might expect to be the main attraction; parents might need to instruct hosts to think of other children first. Pool parties can be good opportunities for kids to hang up formal etiquette at the cabana. Eating hot dogs poolside is more fun for kids than figuring out how to negotiate their way around an artichoke. Party etiquette can be less about detailing exactly how to act and more about being considerate to others at all times.

3. Future Benefits

Better-behaved kids usually receive more party invitations, and make friends more easily. Children who do not learn basic etiquette early in life can have trouble controlling behavior later on. Impulse control can be an important social skill that allows a kid to interact with her peers successfully. Feeling welcome in a peer group can help build a kid's self-esteem.

4. Etiquette Features

Some ways to help a child learn basic party etiquette include having her help set the party table and decorate the general area. When guests arrive, a child can help greet them and walk with them into the reception area. Giving small hosts' duties, such as serving lemonade or doling out slices of cakes, puts your kid in a position of responsibility--and hopefully teaches him about etiquette at the same time. Children who attend parties might instinctively rush toward treats--so parents can help by gently correcting overly anxious party guests.

5. Cultural Considerations

Society is more diverse than in previous generations, so opinions about what constitutes good manners can vary from one family to the next. What one culture might view as impudence in a child, another might find charming. General tolerance and acceptance is a good starting point for anyone faced with wide cultural divides. Learning a bit about the different cultures can help avoid misunderstandings between hosts and guests.

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