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Party protocol, we take a closer look at how to not rock the party circuit boat.

When it comes to children’s birthday parties, you want to impress your child and her friends. Here are some party protocol tips that will help you avoid party disaster.

Find more birthday party tips here

The Whole Class

Until late last year, Ruby* attended the local school around the corner. When birthday time came, there was no feasible way she could invite the whole class. So, each year she handed out invitations to a handful of friends. Now she is at a new school with smaller classes where inviting the whole class is realistic and expected, but she isn’t used to hosting large crowds.

So when birthday time came around she chose to stick to a small ice-skating party. She duly wrote out the invitations and Fay*, her diligent mother, started placing them in fellow classmates’ pigeonholes. “What are you doing?” hissed a fellow mommy one early summer morning when she spied Fay scanning the holes for names. “Oh, I’m handing out invitations for my daughter’s birthday party.”  “If you are not inviting the whole class, don’t ever put the invitations in the holes – the non-invited children will feel left out.” Shrugging her shoulders and doing as she was told, Fay gave the pile to Ruby to slip surreptitiously under sweaters or into satchels.

You’ll find that there’s handing-out-invitations to a party protocol at every school – best you know what yours is if your child is going to crack the nod next round.

Stay in or Outsource

There are a number of advantages to staying at home. Once they are a bit older, children learn to be hosts, to show guests where the bathroom is, to check they have had some cake and that they don’t leave without their party pack – valuable skills for anyone to master. There are more practical aspects to consider, such as the size of your home and the weather.

Seasons often dictate the party venue and the size of your home is also a factor. While a cosy slumber party for a 10-year-old might work in your two-bedroom townhouse, 10 toddlers going hell for leather on a sugar high will have you wishing you had hired a venue!

Find out how you can host a memorable birthday party at home here and here.

Too Many Parties, Too Little Time

I recently attended a one-year-old’s party and happened across a fraught-looking mother who was spending her precious Saturday at five different birthday parties. From sunup to sundown she was driving her five-year-old from party to party, making small talk with other bored parents, watching the clock, watching  children, collecting the party packs and moving on. Not the way to spend a weekend and not the way to teach your children how to spend one either.

While five parties on one day might not be the norm, a party every second weekend certainly is.  I recently heard of a father arriving at a party with child in tow and retreating to the lounge to read his book – a sane move after a hard week’s work, even though the other parents thought it a bit anti-social and against party protocol.

The Art of Giving

I go in search of expert advice – the professional party organisers. How much is one expected to spend on a gift, I ask.  I am relieved to hear that the figure is wide-ranging – anything upward of about R59 and short of R250, with the norm being about R90. That said, I know many a parent who lives in fear of gifts. Beth, whose daughter turns four this year, is having a big party with about 25 children. “I don’t know what I’ll do with all the presents!” she tells me. “There often just isn’t the space to house a mountain of stuff.” This is something to keep in mind when shopping for gifts.

When I think back to my favourite present as a child, a Parker pen with my name engraved on the side from my best friend Margit, comes up tops. I ask other parents for their favourites and the list includes a Hello Kitty writing set, Tinkerbell make-up and cut-out paper dolls. Guys seem to remember Dinky cars bringing great pleasure or  extra Lego pieces to add to a treasured collection.

Themes and Party Packs

And what to do on the day? I ask the pros and am told that children actually want pretty much the same thing: sweets, chips, dress-up games and making things. Then there are the party packs. Here, I am told that packets of sweets and toy trinkets are a thing of the past. Instead party packs now contain things like crafts and paints, dress-up sets, cowboy hats or tea cups and cupcakes along with make-your-own cupcake kits.


Overcatering is silly, a professional party person tells me. She suggests, instead, that you do special things that children remember and leave out the nonsense. She suggest things like candyfloss and popcorn, fizzers, lollypops and flings and maybe even candy apples.  Include some sausage rolls, veggie sticks and other savoury snacks for those not keen on sweet treats or diabetics.

And what of the parents?  Tea, coffee and a few snacks is considered normal. If there is a weekend game on, invite other parents to bring some meat for the braai. You can also stash some some beers and wine in the fridge for your guests.

* Names have been changed

Donna Cobban