6 Tips for Keeping Cool While Hosting Your Child’s Birthday Party

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We have four young kids and we’ve hosted more than a dozen birthday parties — so far. With many, many more to go, we stick to these guidelines for fun parties without frazzled parents.

Invite a small number of kids

No one has fun at a party that feels like a mob. It’s loud. It’s chaotic. See above, it’s no fun. Remember that old rule about inviting as many friends as you are old? It’s perfect. Five, six or eight kids plus a parent each makes for plenty of revelers.

Create a simple theme or activity

Host a tea party. Or have everyone come in costume. This year our 4-year-old had a tea party where everyone wore costumes. Put together a scavenger hunt with hidden clues, a karaoke sing-along or outdoor Olympics based on simple games (like relay races, a water balloon shot put and so on). Pretend it’s 1988 and channel your mother; she put a Barbie doll in the middle of your cake and called it a day.

And by all means, put the birthday child to work. That same 6-year-old LOVED creating signs for her party, directing people where to go and telling people what to put where.

Keep the food to two snacks and a cake.

One large fruit tray — perhaps you assemble fruit kebabs, fruit in little cups or just a pile of fruit — and one more thing will be great. If you don’t want a small riot on your hands, the other thing shouldn’t be packed with sugar. (Preferably that something doesn’t need a plate. That way you can limit the supplies you buy to one set of cake plates, cups and a big pack of napkins.) Kid-friendly options we’ve loved include: fruit and nut balls, cheese straws, a veggie tray with dip, pretzels from a bakery, and cheese and crackers.

Simple snacks give you more room to have fun with a great cake. We’ve decorated cupcakes with mini marshmallows for a surprisingly easy flower display. M&M’s make for instant fish scales and polka dots too, like on these cupcakes. Our son is still talking about his tractor cake (pictured above), the one where it looks like miniature John Deere tractors are tearing into a chocolatey confection.

You just want a packaged cake mix with frosting — or something ready-made from the bakery? Perfect.

Easy does it with the drinks.

We offer water, fruit-flavored water and iced tea, the latter for moms and dads, in big self-serving jugs with spigots. (If it’s a tea party, there’s fruit tea or milk in a teapot.) Water never stains anything, no one is allergic to it and almost everyone could stand to drink more water. If your guest list includes a lot of juice drinkers, try a fruit-infused pitcher of water: Fill a clear pitcher with water and add lots of fresh fruit. It’s like sangria, without the booze.

Skip the piñata

Five pounds of candy and trinkets will not make a party more fun, even if someone gets to smash a Minion to get at the prizes. Those goodies will, however, get lost everywhere, induce sugar rushes and crashes, and cost upward of $40. Instead, we’ve started handing out one nicer gift to each partygoer. Since we have a small crowd to start and a fairly defined theme (see No. 1 and No. 2), it’s pretty easy to find one cool thing for each kid to take home. For the tea party example, a great little mug is perfect.

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Rethink presents

I don’t know where or when it started, but none of the kids I know open presents at their parties anymore. We’ve not seen one of them eagerly rip into a package from us. Why not? If the idea is trying to shield potentially disappointed guests from a display of birthday loot, I suggest skipping presents altogether.

This summer we hosted a food drive and asked friends to bring donations for our local food pantry instead of gifts. It was such a welcome change from collecting gifts from friends (and parents) who don’t know the kids well enough to buy something special, instead focusing on other kids who actually need something. Then the focus is not on stuff, but on fun.

Charity Curley Mathews is the founder of foodlets.com.