Here’s Kama: Birthday Book Exchange & Party Manners

The book exchange idea started with a discussion and a concern. One of my sons, with a concern about “too many presents” during the holiday season and her birthday, and yet with the desire to provide a memorable celebration of our youngest grand daughter, Kama’s seventh birthday party, sparked a family discussion about a birthday book exchange. He talked with her before-hand. She was “on board” and enthusiastic.

This turned out to be a wonderful way to encourage reading and generosity by sharing. If you haven’t heard of this and share my son’s concerns, read on. Because it was such a success and lots of fun, here are a few details plus some important party manners to teach your children. (You may also have some other ideas for meaningful, character building celebrations, and if so, “protocol matters” readers and I would love to hear about them).

Kama’ participation in planning helped her learn first hand about party responsibilities. Colorful homemade invitations for pizza and bowling preceded the birthday party–computer generated, featuring bowling pins and hand signed by the her, as guest of honor, are sent with the following instructions:Arrive at noon for pizza,  then an hour of bowling,  followed by birthday cake and:

Instead of bringing a specific present for Kama–she wants everyone who comes to go home with a gift of their own!

So please bring one wrapped book for a book exchange. At the party, we will number the books and everyone will draw a number for their own “new” book!

Since there may be a variety of ages, please write the book’s appropriate reader age on the outside wrapper.”

Secondly, very positive response from invited children and their parents who  appreciated this time and budget saving idea during a busy holiday time.

Thirdly, good fun for everyone–and excited expectancy to discover the title inside each wrapper. The smiling faces tell the story (my “camera man” apologies to the children in the photo whose faces are hidden by their books).  Birthday girl Kama’s on the left, in the pink.

A few birthday manners to learn and remember: Children’s birthday parties are perfect times to instruct youngsters in social responsibilities that come with such occasions. The little guest of honor has certain duties and so do small guests. It’s unfair to everyone to send a child forth into any situation without some preparatory instruction and training. It sets them up for failure. Children do not know these simple rules unless they are instructed beforehand:

Invitations require a speedy response. Allow your child the opportunity  (and experience) to reply, usually by phone, with prior instructions on how to properly accept or decline their invitation. “Yes, I ‘m coming to the party on November 27. Thank you for asking me.” or “I’m sorry I can’t come, but thank you for inviting me.” (It’s not necessary to provide the reason for declining, but one may be given when its an unavoidable conflict such as being out of town).

The birthday honoree responds to the acceptance or regrets with something like, “Oh, I’m so glad you can come.” or “We will miss you but thank you for letting me know!” (they do not ask “Why can’t you come?”)

Youngsters (with parental over sight) should double check their invitations a week to several days before the party. (This means they must not misplace the invitation). What type of party is this? What’s required? What’s the attire? Wise parents help children learn how to dress appropriately and as requested. There are different types of parties. Will there be swimming? Is the party dressier? Overnight slumber party? Children must learn to plan ahead for different occasions–and not to wait to the last minute to determine what’s necessary. Otherwise, they may be caught short and unprepared at the last minute, which can spoil their mood.

Is a present required? What type of gift would bless birthday honoree? Involve your child in the gift selection process for a lesson in consideration of other’s preferences.

What if the child doesn’t like their gift? Wise parents instruct the birthday child to accept all gifts graciously, even when its not well liked, train a child to look for some redeeming quality. Children are capable of learning tact. They must smile and thank the giver rather than cause hurt feelings.

Other mishaps: One of my sons, when he was very, very young, was greatly disappointed at his party when he didn’t win one of the prizes that he helped pick out before hand.  This possibility and his tears were something unforeseen by me. I simply failed to prepared him for this situation. He was the type of little guy who always tried to please his parents, so prior instruction would have spared him and maintained an uninterrupted happy party mood.

Since little ones are active and constantly on the move, accidents will happen. Train a child to say “I’m sorry” if he bumps into someone or spills something. He should also go to the host and “confess” with an apology. And, when he is the recipient of a hard knock or spilled item, teach him to say, “Its okay. The earlier we learn to smile and to accept an apology, the better.

Arrive and depart on time.  Allow a few minutes extra before leaving for the party to gather items and re-check the invitation for directions. Don’t forget the present. Parents, too, be on time, both coming and going or call and let hosts know if there’s a delay. Good guests don’t overstay their welcome or ignore requested start and finish times, and children need to learn this also.

The birthday honoree welcomes guests as they arrive with a smile and “glad you could come” statement. Kama’s a “hugger” so her guests usually receive hugs, smiles, and warm welcomes.

The small guests duty, first thing upon their arrival, is to greet the birthday child and hosting parent(s) with some type of cheerful expression: “Hi, thank you for inviting me”, ask where to put their presents, and does not reveal what is in the gift they bring.  This is also a time to listen for any instructions the hosts may offer.

A polite “thank you” for inviting me before leaving is standard etiquette for any aged guest. The hosts also express appreciation for the guests participation in the party. The birthday child also thanks guests again for any gifts given.

Instruct children before the party about good sportsmanship rules, to not run, yell, or push, interrupt, and to take turns, to wait for the hostess instructions before taking food or prizes.

The head butler at London’s Lanesborough Hotel, Sean Davoren tells about his first experience with a young child’s birthday party for twenty-five youngsters and the ensuing disaster due to the youngsters lack of prior training. Without proper instruction, the children simply did not know how to act and chaos resulted. Mr. Davoren, not a gentleman undone by something so easily remedial,  began conducting classes in etiquette for young people inspiring both children and their parents with some practical protocol.

He and I agree that teaching a child to be a considerate guest or host involves training in basic etiquette: How to act, to eat properly, what to say when you are given a gift you don’t like, how to behave during the party, waiting for hostess instructions, saying thank you when arriving and departing helps everyone better enjoy the party.  Good manners contribute to the success of an event.


I’m happy to report that Kama remembered her good manners and had a marvelous celebration full of happy memories.  Protocol Matters!


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