Planning a birthday party for your child can seem daunting, especially if you don't have a sliver of Type A anywhere in your body. Don't panic! We've compiled a list of tips to help get you on the road to party success. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun event for the guest of honor, not a chance to prove to the other moms that you desreve the title of Super Mom. This is an opportunity to make lasting memories for your child and help her to feel special.
- Get your child’s input. If your child is old enough to have an opinion then ask for it – it is your child's party after all. While you don't want to get advice on every detail, your child should have input on things such as theme, who to invite, what they would like to do, the flavor of the cake and the type of food served.
- Choose a location that works best for you. There are pros and cons to all locations. Are you ready for the chaos of 10 kids running through your home? Can you afford to rent space at another location? Do you feel that a location like a kid-friendly pizza restaurant or bouncy place will be too impersonal? Consider the practicality, cost and feel of each place before deciding. Ask around for other parents' opinions of various venues.
- Keep it small. The party rule of thumb is to invite only as many kids as your child’s age. For example, if your child is 5 years old, then keep the number of guests to 5. Of course, sometimes it isn't reasonable to keep it so small but, in general, a smaller group will make the party more manageable, less expensive and will avoid the awkwardness of kids feeling left out or overwhelmed. Be sure to include an RSVP date on the invitation and check back with parents if you have no heard a response. Sometimes they forget.
- Make a budget and stick to it. Decide on the non-negotiables and then bargain hunt for the rest. Know how much you can spend and stay within those parameters. Your child doesn't need a lot of frills to know that she is loved.
- Enlist help. Talk to a few of your mommy friends and ask them to stick around to help you. Check to see if your mom or mother-in-law is available to manage part of the festivities. Or, if you really can't find anyone else, hire your babysitter or another local teen for a few hours to run interference for you. Trust me, you really can’t do this alone. Don't be too proud to ask for help.
- Plan out the entire event. Don’t guesstimate, don’t assume – have a schedule. When your party plan is loose, you will inevitably run over time. Assume that each activity will take longer than you think. Prep time, transitions between activities and pokey children should all be considerations in scheduling. Do not plan an event that will out-last the attention spans of your young guests. Be considerate of the other parents’ time and end the party on time.
- Provide constant activity. Particularly for younger kids, this will keep idle hands from getting into trouble. If you have a craft activity planned and some children finish faster than others, have toys or another game or activity ready for them to play until it's time to move on to the next event. Plan all-inclusive events and things to do if kids finish the activities early or while they are waiting for the party to start. For my daughter's princess party, we scheduled someone to give glitter tattoos and when each girl was done she could move on to having her fingernails painted or making a princess wand. When my son turned five and had a construction worker party, we provided a small table/bin filled with feed corn in which they could dig with construction vehicles until everyone arrived.
- Take the group picture as soon as the guests arrive. At the beginning of the party your little guest are at their happiest and most excited. As you can see in the picture below, I learned this lesson the hard way. Enlist the help of a friend or family member with a good camera to take the pictures. You won’t have time!
- As much as you can, set up and prep for the party the night before. If your event is at another location and it is not possible to set up the night before, make sure you’ve allotted for enough time to set up prior to the event. Pack up your party supplies and food the night before so that it is ready to go. It will take longer than you think.
- Check for food allergies and try to accommodate them. If your child does not have allergies, you have no idea how much this will mean to the mom of a child with allergies.
- Feed kids at the end of the party. Whether you're providing a meal or just cake and ice cream, try to feed the little guests at the end of the party. Some children are notoriously slow eaters and this can cause a delay in the activities, particularly if you are hiring an entertainer of some kind like a clown, magician or musician.
- If you are having a drop-off party, get the cell phone numbers of parents. Make up a sign-in list the night before so you don't forget to ask. You don't want to find yourself with an injured child halfway into the party only to realize that you have no phone number and Dad won't be back for another hour.
- Gifts. If your child is young, consider saving the gift-opening until after the guests have left. This will avoid the embarrassment of watching your child open a gift and then thoughtlessly toss it aside. Don't want to be over-run with toys? A donation party is a great way to help your child think about others who are less fortunate. Ask guests to bring a new game, book or toy in lieu of a gift for the birthday boy or girl. You and your child can then deliver the gifts to a charity of your child's choosing.
- Consider the weather. Have a rain date or location scheduled as a back-up in case of inclement weather. A snow day in the winter or a rainy day for an outdoor party can otherwise ruin the fun for the little party-goers.
- Thank you notes. Yes, proper etiquette and common courtesy says that you do need to send them and it does need to be snail mail. It tells the parents of your guests that, in this time of unending kids parties, you appreciated their efforts to get their child to your child's party. Involve your child in the thank you notes in an age-appropriate way to help foster gratitude. For pre-schoolers, you can write out the note and have your child sign his name. For grade-schoolers, a simple, two sentence note should suffice. Some parents like to take pictures of their child with the gift and include the picture with the note. This is a nice gesture but if it adds stress to your already busy life then skip it.
With some forethought, you'll throw a fun and stress-free party that you and your child will remember for years to come.
Kim is the wife of one rockin' Worship Pastor, full-time mom to four crazy and beautiful kids, foster mom to one adorable boy and Editorial Manager for ATFM. Toss in another part-time job, housework and what passes for a social life these days and she’s still wondering how she fits 32 hours into a 24 hour day. You can follow Kim’s adoption journey on her newest blog, It’s a Vertical Life.