Balloons, bubbles and piles of presents! What's not to love? However, there are moments at birthday parties that cause parents to go weak at the knees...
Dodge party pitfalls and avoid meltdowns with our tips for successful celebrations.
So much to do, so little time
Write a plan of all the activities you want to have at the party with an allocation of time. Include everything – welcoming and settling guests, opening presents, games, food, and cake etc. You’ll be surprised how quickly two hours can disappear before you’ve even sung Happy Birthday. Be careful not to over-schedule – kids don’t need much to be happy. A couple of games and then time to free play is usually sufficient. It’s a good idea to have the food all ready to serve before guests arrive, so you don’t get stuck in the kitchen. Alternatively, delegate someone to run the refreshment prep so you can focus on event management! Some parties work best with food first, then play, then cake to finish. Others work well with some games while everyone is fresh, then food to finish.
Too many kids
It’s a brave parent who invites the whole kindergarten class to a birthday party… unless you have guaranteed fine weather, hired a hall, or an unlimited budget and tolerance for noise, we recommend keeping the guest list short. As harsh as that sounds, dozens of loud and excited children in a confined space can be very stressful for the birthday boy or girl, not to mention their parents! A common rule of thumb for the number of children to invite is the birthday child’s age plus 1. So a 4-year-old’s birthday would have 5 guests. But we know this is easier said than done. Invite how many children you feel you can confidently entertain and hold the attention of at key moments throughout the party. The other factor is space – make sure you have room for all the guests to sit and eat, play games, and/or watch the entertainment.
Another tip for bigger parties – seriously consider outsourcing entertainment. Professional party entertainers (fairies, pirates, balloon makers, face painters etc) are brilliant at keeping children focused and amused while you attend to food or other preparations.
Don’t leave me!
Have an activity ready to quickly amuse guests as they arrive and say goodbye to their parents (if it’s a drop off party). Face painting is great for this, as is a selection of colouring-in sheets with some new colouring pencils. It is a good idea to have a background activity for quieter guests to be involved in while still feeling part of the party. Try covering the table with brown paper and allowing kids to doodle wherever they like. Having some simple crafts, like bead threading or pipe cleaners at another table is also a simple and calming distraction for children.
Capture the moment
Delegate photography to a capable adult so you can manage the party and not miss the Kodak moments. It is impossible to light the candles, cut the cake (while keeping the sharp knife at a safe distance from the guests), conduct the singing, keep the birthday child smiling AND get a good picture. Delegate.
A huge pile of presents
Inevitably the birthday boy or girl will be presented with a huge pile of gifts. Present unwrapping can go bad… everyone wants to play with the goods, younger siblings feel hard done by, the birthday child gets overwhelmed and ungrateful, precious and carefully selected gifts get lost in a mountain of discarded paper and plastic packaging… Here are some ideas for happy present opening:
1. Thank guests for the present on arrival, and then pile them away out of reach to be opened after the party. Be sure to note down who gave what so specific thank yous can be issued after the event. This is probably the wisest plan of attack for under 3- or even under 4-year-olds
2. With a smaller group of guests, especially guests older than 4, sit everyone around in a circle and guests take turns at handing their gift to the birthday child, who then unwraps gifts one a time. Teach your child in advance that is polite to open the card first, then the gift, and then thank the giver before reaching for another present. Once all the presents have been opened, you could then use the circle for pass the parcel, so everyone can enjoy the thrill of tearing open paper packages.
3. Open presents as guests arrive, one at a time, then display the gifts on a high shelf, out of reach until after the party.
4. With gifts from family members, especially grandparents who may have chosen something special for the birthday child, suggest a present delivery before or after the party, so the moment can be savoured in peace and calm.
Pass the parcel, again and again and again…
Beware of the game that takes too long. Pass the parcel, for example, should probably not be attempted with any more than 8 children or it just takes too long and kids lose interest. For bigger groups, try games that have everyone involved at once like musical statues (or musical cushions – safer than chairs) or a treasure hunt.
It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to
All the cupcakes in the world won’t stop the guest of honour melting down if emotions get out of control. Many a birthday boy or girl has cried at their own party. Make sure you have enough other adults around so you can concentrate on comforting your child in a quiet space while the party goes on without them. And if they want to play by their new Lego by themselves in their bedroom, so be it. There’s always next year!
Be sure to provide plenty of savoury food, as too much sweet food will send kids into a sickly spin before you can say “sausage roll”. In fact, if you are serving birthday cake (pretty inevitable), kids really only need one or two other sweet options as we’ve found the birthday cake is often left uneaten at the end of the party because little tummies just can’t stomach any more sugar.
Death by 1000 cups
Allocate each child their own cup or drink bottle and name it, so you don’t end up with 50 half-filled drinks, most of which have been spilt at least once, and thirsty kids still looking for refreshment. We love using mini milk bottles at parties, but save on waste by labelling bottles with a little tag on some string or an alphabet sticker initial for each child. Paper cups can be written on with a marker pen.
Click here for more great advice for fabulous parties, from the professionals at Poppyseed.
Published July, 2013