Dear parents of young children:
Consider this a love letter from those of us who have made pretty much every mistake in the book when it comes to planning and hosting kids’ birthday parties. The voice of experience speaks here.
Before picking a date and time, inquire among your kid’s closest friends to ensure there aren’t any major conflicts.
Ninety minutes is the perfect duration for a kid’s birthday party. Too short and you will be sending people out the door with plates of cake. Too long and you raise the probability of boredom and destruction setting in. Think 30 minutes for arrivals and unstructured play, 30 for featured activities and food, and 30 for cake and ice cream. Boom! You’re done.
Sugared-up kids will always find ways — positive or negative — to burn the added energy off. The best parties offer plenty of positive energy-burn opportunities; think dancing, jumpy houses, sports and any other games that involve lots of running.
Always specify an end time. If you say ‘until whenever’ on your invite, you WILL end up with kids sleeping over. Even with an end time, at least one parent will pick up very late, so be sure you don’t have any plans for right after the party.
Assume every kid in the class is going to hear about the party and consider how you and your child might feel about being excluded. If your child desperately wants to exclude someone, dig deeply into why. There may be a natural antipathy between the two children; it’s okay if they don’t attend each other’s parties. But, if a child in question is simply unpopular, play the heavy and invite him or her anyway.
NEVER rely on your child to deliver invitations by hand, verbally, or via school. Digital invites are great because they make it easy for parents to reply and you can send out reminders. Postal invites are great too because kids love receiving mail addressed to them and you have all the addresses you need for promptly mailing out thank you cards later.
Don’t assume people are going to RSVP by your cutoff date even when you ask nicely. Count on kids showing up who never RSVP and vice versa. If the big day is approaching and you haven’t heard from more than a few parents, start making calls. The last thing you want is for your child to be surprised or disappointed by kids not showing for their party.
Avoid personalizing goody bags, and make sure you have plenty of extras. Remember, kids will show to your party with no RSVP and parents will often arrive for pick-up with green-eyed siblings in tow. You will be glad to have extras on hand.
When parents are dropping off, do two things: ask about food allergies and obtain mobile phone numbers. Parents will often use party times to run errands; you definitely want to be able to get in touch when Anna breaks out in hives after eating a strawberry or Tommy is bleeding and you think he might need stitches.
If hosting an unstructured party in your home, plan at least a few uncomplicated activities especially for children who are less comfortable socially. At the same time, be prepared to abandon all preplanned activities if the kids seem inclined to just play and make their own fun.
Ship your pets somewhere safe for the day. There will always be one child who becomes obsessed with your pet and wants to carry it around or feed it treats the whole time. There will be another who is absolutely terrified of animals.
If accepting gifts, save opening for a quiet time after the party. This prevents hard feelings if your child reacts the wrong way. It also precludes other kids from ripping open your kid’s gifts, and gives you an opportunity to record accurately who gave what for thank-you cards later on.
What have we missed? Add your own stories and helpful advice for kids’ birthday parties in the comments below.