Are Siblings Invited? The Etiquette of Children’s Birthday Parties


celebrating a child's birthday with guests

I recently opened an e-invitation for a preschool friend’s birthday party and breathed a sigh of relief. It was addressed to The Lang Family, not just one of my kids, and the starting headcount option on the RSVP was four. No confusion there; my whole family is invited to this shindig, and we’re definitely more likely to go because of it.

Invitations aren’t always this clear cut, and I’ve learned that the expectations for parties can vary greatly. Some hosts assume your whole crew will show, even if the invite is addressed to one child. Others expect only the invited guest to come, and some more expect the guest plus a parent chaperone. 

Depending on my relationship with the hosts, I’m not always comfortable seeking clarification on ambiguous invitations. Stalking the previously submitted RSVPs and messages can help clue me into the situation, but who’s to say that those guests got it right? I would really love if all parents could get on the same page about party etiquette. Here’s how I’d like to see the rules play out.

If parents are expected to attend the party with their children, then siblings are invited. If it is a drop-off affair, then siblings are not invited. (And make it clear on the invitation who’s invited to attend and what kind of party it is.)

Parents need siblings to tag along for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that they may not have anyone available to watch their other child(ren), or they simply want to spend time with all of their kids on the weekends. And if you’re already adding more kids to the mix, then what’s another adult? Invite the whole family so you get to know the parents and so that they have a wingman for small talk.

They may not choose to all come—I have a friend with four kids who wouldn’t dare to bring them all to a school friend birthday party—but welcoming them is gracious and actually helps you plan for the party. You’re more likely to get an accurate headcount of who’s coming, rather than scrambling to divvy up goodie bags and portion out cake to accommodate surprise siblings the day of the party.

Inviting entire families obviously increases the guest list and party expense exponentially, so another option is to make the party a drop-off event. This keeps the headcount down and eliminates the need for parents to bring along siblings. Ask a few of your close friends to stay if you need extra hands and wave goodbye to the rest.

Of course, if the party guests are too young to be left alone (think: toddlers and preschoolers), then a drop-off party won’t work. And to this I say, simplify your birthday plans so you can afford all of the guests or limit the number of families you invite. Kids this young aren’t going to remember much about their party anyway, so if your party planning expenses are skyrocketing, the event is probably more about you than your kid. That’s fine; we deserve to celebrate another year of successful parenting, but expecting your guests to attend with a perfect one-to-one ratio of adults to children is unrealistic.

After all, what’s a party without friends? While your child is certainly the star of the day, the point of a party is to celebrate with community. So invite them, and let them join the celebration in a way that works for their families, too. 

If you don’t want siblings to come or will only accommodate them if needed, then please explain the situation clearly on the invitation. “Due to space constraints, our headcount is limited and we cannot accommodate siblings,” or, “…our headcount is limited. If you need a sibling to attend with your child, please let me know in advance. Thanks!”

I guarantee you that your expectations for party etiquette are different from other school-friend-families and you really do need to be explicit. I asked about ten of my girlfriends who live all over the country about siblings and invitations and their responses were wildly different. Families will make their own assumptions about the party invitation or may feel uncomfortable asking you for details. As the host/hostess, it’s your job to make them feel welcomed—and invited.



  1. I love this! Especially the part about inviting the whole family. Our hours as a family are precious .. I hate situations that make us separate, or choose who gets to go with whom and who has to stay home.

  2. This is always confusing when the invitation is ambiguous. I do reach out to the host and clarify because it’s only fair to both sides. I have kids under four and cannot leave one at home if I’m by myself. Likewise, I don’t expect every party to be open to siblings for cost/space reasons, but it should be stated.

    Thanks for writing this helpful piece!


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