It's never too early to teach your child good manners, and birthday parties make ideal etiquette classrooms.
You don't need to invite everyone in your child's class to the party. In fact, it's usually a bad idea to have too many guests. You should, however, be considerate of others' feelings. This means not handing out invitations at the playground or on the school bus. It's better to send invitations in the mail or make a few phone calls. Discourage your child from talking about the party at school.
If you feel you "owe" invitations to more children than you can handle (because they've invited your child to parties, for example), consider setting up after-school play dates or other activities.
It's okay to call parents if they don't reply to your invitation. Use the call as an opportunity to clarify the time and date of the party (and to gather information about things like food allergies, especially if the parents are dropping off their children).
As soon as you start planning, teach your child to be a gracious host by emphasizing the importance of her guests' enjoyment. Put her in charge of greeting guests at the door or handing out favors as they depart.
Since some children can have trouble sharing toys, be sure to prepare your child for the party a few days in advance. Give the guest of honor advance warning that friends will be coming over to play with her toys — and the chance to put away any special toys that she can't bear to share.
Birthday gifts are like Pandora's box: when young children open them, they can unleash a flood of bad feelings. The youngest givers may be reluctant to part with their gifts; the recipients may announce that they hate (or already have) what's in the box.
You can avoid this situation altogether by not opening gifts at the party, especially when the guests are under five. If, however, you choose to open gifts at the event, be sure to remind children beforehand what gifts represent — the good wishes of the giver. Teach your child to say an enthusiastic "thank you" after opening every gift (even duplicates).
To make gift-giving more bearable for young party guests, consider making the activity into a game. One mom suggests starting this tradition: As the birthday child opens each gift, the giver gets to select something from a basket of favors.
Occasionally parents will bring along a sibling or extra child who hasn't been invited. It's nice to have an extra treat or balloon on hand for the brother or sister who comes to pick up a party guest.
Teaching your child to write thank-you notes is a gift that will last much longer than any of the brightly wrapped presents that he opens on the big day. You'll be teaching consideration, gratitude, and writing skills. These notes need not be long or complicated. Even pre-literate kids can sign their autograph or draw a picture as a way of sending thanks. If you've invited neighbors as your guests, your child can even deliver these notes by hand.