Whether to have a “party” or not is up to the parents and what makes them feel comfortable. However, it’s best to be realistic when it comes to expectations. Throwing a party for a 2 year old with pony rides, a magician, jumping castle, decadent food and a three tier cake is a waste of money if the expectation is for that child to remember any of it. Chances are they won’t even stay awake or they may have a meltdown as it’s just all too much for them. It’s only natural to want to celebrate these milestones but for kids under five, keeping it low key with family and close friends is recommended, until the kids and parents are ready for the responsibility, cost and exhaustion that comes with throwing a party (as well as the fun, excitement and joy!!)
Who to invite seems to cause the most angst when it comes to kids’ parties. Again it’s up to the parent and child as to what feels acceptable. Beware of inviting the whole class, unless looking after 20-30 kids is not daunting and you have a whip and chair handy! For school age children, their preferences should be respected. Inviting kids they don’t know at all or may not necessarily like, may lead to social issues on the day. Humility and resilience are also important – kids shouldn’t gloat about having a party or being invited to one but also need to learn they aren’t always going to be invited either. More kids = more cost, more time and preparation and more chance for accidents and incidents. However, the age plus one rule is not necessarily practical either -6 kids won’t necessarily create a party atmosphere or make playing party games workable. A good number is 12 to 15.
Should you RSVP? YES! Some people go to a lot of effort, time and preparation when it comes to organising a kid’s party. There can be a lot of per head costs like party bags, entertainment and food. Respect that the organiser has gone to this effort and cost and their child is looking forward to being surrounded by their friends. Also no one should be put in a position where they don’t have a party bag, cupcake or prize for a child because they weren’t expecting them. Having only one or two kids show up would be even worse.Don’t rely on kids to RSVP to the birthday child or their parent – communicate directly with the organiser to prevent misunderstandings. This also ensures they then have all parents’ details if something happens on the day or they are not staying.
There was a post recently about the controversial decision of a mother in the UK to send the parent of a boy that didn’t show up to her child’s party, an invoice for £15.95, as a no show fee (to cover the ski slope fee). Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme and yes, plans change and kids get sick but if a child does RSVP yes and they can no longer make it, then it’s courtesy to let the organiser know, even if it’s just a text message.
Sometimes taking siblings is unavoidable and organisers appreciate this. Again it’s courtesy to let them know if siblings are coming and if the party is at somewhere like a roller skating rink or the movies it is their parent’s responsibility to pay for and supervise those siblings.
For the organiser -hand out the invitations at least 2 weeks before the party; the more notice the greater chance of people being able to make it. Be aware of things like Saturday morning sports that can prevent a lot of kids from being able to make it. A great tip to prevent invitations getting lost is to pop a magnet on the back so it goes on the fridge. Also, make sure all communication options are listed, e.g. mobile phone and email and the date the RSVP is required by. That way there is no excuse for someone not being able to contact the organiser.
Drop Off or Stay
This depends on the party venue, e.g. secure play centre vs a park or the family home; age and personality of the child and the relationship with the birthday child’s family. The best thing to do is assess the situation when arriving, e.g. how many kids there are, the level or supervision, etc. but it wouldn’t normally be considered appropriate to leave a preschool age child at a party without a parent nor a child who may be clingy or insecure.
Giving a kid a pile of presents and telling them they can’t open it would be like putting a block of Cadbury’s finest in front of a chocoholic and telling them they can’t have it. However, it can cause chaos and delay things like games or entertainment. The best option is to discuss with the birthday child beforehand when the present opening will be. The end of the party is good after the entertainment and cake are done but before everyone leaves so that the giver gets to see the child open their present. Thank you cards may not be practical if a parent is not sitting there opening the presents like you would do with a toddler as you may not even be able to match the presents to the givers. Parents should not be too hard on themselves when it comes to this practice but do ensure the birthday child thanks their friends for their gift and for coming and vice versa.
What should the party host provide? The merriam-webster dictionary describes a party as “a social event in which entertainment, food, and drinks are provided”.
How to entertain the kids is probably the second biggest issue behind who to invite and is the one aspect of a kids’ party that parents are mostly likely to outsource. It depends on the age of the kids, number of kids, whether the party host is comfortable entertaining a group of kids and if not what their budget is. As a guide – toddlers are happy to play with what is in the home, I.e what the birthday child plays with or the local play centre or playground. Jumping castles, face painters and balloonist are great for pre-schoolers and party games are good to introduce from age 5 and upwards, as are magicians, animal shows, etc. Movies, roller skating rinks, etc. are better left for when they are a bit more mature and able to self regulate their behaviour (and coordination!). It’s important to be consistent. Don’t raise a child’s expectations with a trip to Dreamworld one year and takeaway dinner from Maccas the next.
The type of food to provide depends on the time of day the party is being held. If the party is from say 11.00 to 1.00 then there is an expectation of substantial lunch time food. Lighter refreshments are fine for late afternoon. Also, if there is an expectation for the parents to stay then they should be provided for also, especially as it’s quite likely they have been running around doing errands beforehand and have probably forgotten to eat. Make sure there is plenty of water and not just cordial and soft drinks, especially in summer.
The kids are worn out from running around, bellies are full, the cake has been done and it’s time to go home and the first child that leaves is looking expectantly at the party host and whispers in anticipation “are there party bags?” (okay maybe it’s just my child that does this!!). Despite extensive research it is difficult to locate the origin of “party bags”. They began as lolly bags but with the health revolution and high rate of childhood obesity these have become frowned upon. But let’s face it, kids are materialistic! Who wouldn’t want to receive a little gift? But they also like giving – they take pleasure in handing out goody bags, especially if they have made or decorated them. It’s up to the party host to decide what to give – it’s a bit pointless to hand out something that is going to get thrown in the trash within an hour of getting home just for the sake of distributing something,but it’s also not necessary to send them home with a mini Van Gough or iPod. Something practical they can use or an art/craft activity they can do quietly when they get home is sure to be appreciated. Whatever the decision, the intention should be obvious – if party bags are going to be handed out, it’s good to have them in plain view and task the you birthday child or a relative with making sure the kids get one when they leave so no one misses out! If there are no party bags, make it light and polite, e.g. “sweetheart the prize you got in the pass the parcel was our thank you gift.”
On a recent survey conducted (of my own two children ), when asked what their favourite part of having a party is, their response was “the cake & the party bags”, whereas I would spend far more time on decorations and entertainment. It just goes to show that parents probably stress unnecessarily over aspects that the birthday child and their guests may not even notice. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop doing those things as I enjoy it and it’s my contribution to them. However, I do outsource things I don’t like to do, e.g. the cake, food, taking photos, etc. so they are things I don’t have to stress about and I’m left to enjoy the day with the kids, which is what it’s all about in the end…