20 tips to avoid a birthday party disaster
It’s easy to see why there are so many party planners out there – throwing a birthday party is a tricky business – especially a kid’s party. One little detail left out, one small element not quite right and – pfft! – you’ve got a party disaster on your hands! Lucky you’ve got this to read first.
1. Beware the unwanted guest
Nothing ruins a party more than an unwanted or unexpected guest – whether it’s the evil child who steals all the toys and wrecks your home, or the kid who comes with their many siblings who haven’t been catered for. Talk to your child when planning the guest list and make sure both you and they are happy with who is coming. Be wary of hosting a ‘shared party’ with another child for that same reason – fine if the friends are all mutual, but you don’t want any nasty surprises. On your invitation, it may also help to make a note by the RSVP saying, ‘please let us know if any of your other children will be coming’ – or if you can only have a set number of children, stipulate this on the invitation.
Real-life disaster story: “I hosted a birthday party for my two sons at my house. They invited children from school that I had not really met. This one family brought their son, and all their five other uninvited children, and stayed for the party. They then got upset that I hadn’t provided enough goodie bags for their children at the end of the party. When it came time to break the piñata, the parents actually pushed other kids out of the way to take all of the toys and lollies. Needless to say, I’ve advised my kids that that boy won’t be invited to any more parties.”
2. Chase up the RSVPs
What’s worse than an unwelcome guest? No guests at all! Imagine your child’s devastation if no one or almost no one showed up to their do. Regardless of how much time and effort you’ve put into the invitations, children – and parents – can be thoughtless and forgetful. Set your RSVP for a week or two out from the party and if you haven’t heard back, ring to find out whether or not they’re attending. It doesn’t hurt to also send a reminder a couple of days before the event.
Real-life disaster story: “I invited my son’s whole preschool class to his fourth birthday and wrote ‘RSVP regrets’ on the invite, thinking it would make it easier for people. No one called to say they weren’t coming, so I was expecting 20 kids. Only six showed up. Any of these parents could have told me they weren’t coming in person at pickup/drop-off, on the phone or via email! Ugh!I Let’s just say we have plenty of cupcakes and pizza in my freezer now.”
3. Check your invitation carefully
Before you fire off your invitations, check and double check your dates and times and that you’ve written the address and phone number down correctly. It’s easy to just have a momentary lapse of concentration while you’re putting together the invitation, which could lead to a major headache later on.
Real life disaster story: “I had a mum knock on my door during the holidays because her daughter had written and sent out the invites without permission. She had the wrong date on them. Being holidays, the mother knew only a few addresses and no numbers so she was asking at each house if we knew the other kids and where they lived. In the end, she had three out of 20 kids rock up on the wrong day.”
4. Present and accounted for
When it comes to opening gifts, it’s often preferable to wait until everyone has gone, especially if there are a lot of tantrum-prone youngsters around who might get jealous. It’s also much easier to keep track of who gave what and is a nice way to end the day (i.e. a great way to appease an overwrought child who is devastated their party is over). It’s also less stressful if your child tends to be a little too honest about whether or not they like their gift! If you are going to open gifts during the party, have someone on hand (preferably not you as you’ll be busy enough!) to make a note of who gave what, so that you can send a short thank you note afterwards.
Real life party disaster: “At my son’s third birthday party, as I was racing around in a mad flap dealing with food, drinks and who knows what else, my son was gleefully tearing open presents as soon as they were presented to him. At the end of the day, neither he nor I had a clue of who had brought what.”
5. Plan for your pet
Whether it’s a dog eating the birthday cake or a cat disappearing for a week after being traumatised by a pack of tail-pulling toddlers, pets can easily wreak havoc on a party or have havoc wreaked upon them! Plan to either keep a close eye on them, have them confined to a certain area of the house (good luck with that!) or consider asking someone to mind them for the duration of the party.
Real life disaster story: “We had a pool party for my daughter’s ninth birthday and our dog got so excited that anytime someone jumped in the pool, he did too – on top of them! There were a couple of children with distinct claw marks on their backs and it certainly killed the fun of the party.”
6. Rain, hail or shine?
While outdoor venues are often a great option – especially if your own home isn’t party sized – remember you’ll be at the mercy of the elements. Have a Plan B or be prepared to cancel if bad weather hits. Check the weather a few days in advance so you can have a contingency plan thought out in advance.
Real life disaster story: “I have a child who we call cyclone Timothy! He is sporty and a fan of the outdoor birthday party. One year we had the red dust storm, the next year we had torrential rain and last year we had the wind blowing sooooo hard that two mothers had to stand and hold the pizza boxes so they didn’t fly away. A momentary lapse of concentration resulted in four flying away and getting stuck on a wire fence. We took bets as to how long until they would fall down but the wind was so strong they never did. Now he prefers indoor parties!”
7. That’s entertainment
It’s all well and good having some games organised, but it’s also important to have enough to keep the kids entertained during the ‘in between times’, especially when your kids are younger and all they want to do is play. Make use of local hire places and toy libraries and hire loads of toys to keep everyone occupied. Some toy libraries allow you to hire a party pack, complete with play equipment to amuse the older kids and you can also hire a large play pen to corral the younger kids. For older kids, on top of your traditional games, have a ‘craft corner’ or similar set up at the party to keep them amused. If you’re planning to lash out on special entertainment such as a clown, fairy or jumping castle, confirm your booking a week out and consider keeping it a surprise from the guests to avoid disappointment if it all falls through at the last minute.
8. Check dietary requirements
These days, with so many food allergies around, it’s always a good idea to ask your invitees if they have any special dietary requirements. Keeping nuts away from parties is always a good idea as so many kids are allergic to them, but also make sure you’re catering for any other special foodie requirements. A range of both healthy and more traditional party fare will ensure everyone is happy and keep some pretty plain fare like crackers and cheese on standby in case of fussy eaters.
Real life disaster story: “I really wish I’d known my daughter’s friend was Muslim before I gaily offered up hot dogs to everyone.”
9. Stock up on supplies
Don’t make the rookie mistake of only providing enough plates, cups and utensils as there are invitees. The last thing you want to do is have to break out the good china (‘break’ being the operative word) because a child has used a different plate for every frankfurter. Stock up, there’ll be plenty more parties in the future to use up the excess!
Real life disaster story: “My friend had a picnic birthday party in a park, with roast chicken rolls and salads. Unfortunately, due to a communication breakdown with her husband, they forgot to bring any cutlery, so the salads ended up going untouched as there was nothing to eat them with.”
10. Lock in the BFF
If your child has a best friend make sure they can come on the date you are planning before you go ahead with bookings and invitations. The day just won’t be the same without their partner in crime by their side.
11. Involve your child in the planning
If your child is old enough, sit down with them and offer a few suggestions for the birthday party theme – it would be horrible to discover that she thinks The Little Mermaid is so daggy after you’ve ordered a sandcastle cake and hand sewn a mermaid costume. To avoid disappointment, write down the options you are prepared to invest your time and money in and then let her choose from the list. However, don’t ask your child to get too involved in the planning because tears may follow when you say no to a Frozen-style ice palace sculpture in the back garden.
12. Plan like your life depends on it
When it comes to a successful party, you can never do too much planning. Plan what party food the kids are going to eat, what party games they will play and what to give to each child when they leave. Again, coming up with a party theme can help you make decisions with all of the above. Start collecting party paraphernalia a couple of weeks prior to the big day and store it all in a plastic tub so it’s easy to access when party time arrives.
13. Menu magic
If you want to serve a small meal, keep the party food offerings simple. Familiar snacks like pizza or sandwiches work well and can be turned into special party food by using cookie cutters to make star-shaped sandwiches or heart-shaped pizza. Or consider ordering in to save time and hassle, especially if you’re busy organising games, etc. If the kids have been well fed and had a good mix of sweet/savoury, healthy/non-healthy, the better behaved they’ll be. If you’ve never seen a child who’s eaten nothing but a handful of lollies, three meringues and two cupcakes, take my word for it – it ain’t pretty.
14. The numbers game
The number of invitees can make or break your bash. Big is not always best – don’t get trapped into inviting everyone your child has ever known. A good rule of thumb is that the number of guests should be the age of your child plus one once your child is aged three and over. Keeping numbers down to around 6-8 kids means the birthday child won’t be overwhelmed on the day and will get to see and play with everyone, not to mention reducing the costs of food and drink and making games and activities easier to organise. Your child will learn the value of good friendship, especially when they explain why they want those six children there.
15. It’s all in the timing
When, what time, and for how long? Weekend parties are better for younger children and family can attend too, while older children will enjoy an after school party, as they love spending all day in anticipation of going home together, plus your party won’t clash with Saturday sport. The time of day you choose to start your child’s party depends on whether you want to serve a party meal or just birthday cake and/or snacks. If serving a meal, start the party between 11am -12.30pm or 5pm – 6.30pm. And if you plan to serve cake only, have your party two hours before or one hour after traditional meal times so your guests won’t arrive or go home hungry. If young kids are coming, plan your party to take place mid-morning or after 3pm to avoid daytime nap conflict. And for the sake of your sanity, give the party an end time as well as a start time … it’s the first step in getting that ‘time to go!’ hint across.
Real life party disaster: “For my daughter’s first birthday, I thought it would be nice to serve a barbecue lunch and the fact that it was her nap time never even occurred to me. She fell asleep about 20 minutes into the party and didn’t even wake up for the cake.”
16. Prep the birthday child – and their bedroom
Being the star of the party is not always easy – really little kids will be totally overwhelmed by the event and young kids will also often be overcome with excitement and anticipation (not to mention sugar). Talk to your child the day before the party and explain what’s going to happen. If it’s a house party, explain that other kids will see his room and play with his toys. It might be a good idea to hide special toys that your child can’t bear to share – and that also goes for any other siblings and their bedrooms.
Real life birthday disaster: “My son absolutely loves trains. On his fourth birthday, we invited several of his friends around and I had lots of fun party games planned. All my son wanted to do was sit in his bedroom and play trains, something he can do any day of the year. I wish I’d hidden the trains for the day!”
17. Give good games
Sometimes old-fashioned party games work best for the youngest children. Pin the tail on the donkey, pass the parcel and musical chairs are exciting for four-year olds because they may be discovering them for the first time, while six-year-olds may prefer more challenging games like a treasure hunt or egg and spoon races. Older children will enjoy crafts like making ribbon wands or party poppers.
18. Music magic
Nothing says ‘cool Mum’ better than having THE music of the moment. No, your favourite party CD won’t do, unless your kids are very young or into the same music as you (unlikely!). Be sure to download some of your kid’s favourite songs – some of the best party moments can be had dancing and singing loudly to a song everyone loves.
19. Prepare as much as you can in advance
You had your whole day planned: setting up the decor, making food, getting yourself ready … Then an unforeseen obstacle got in your way (a.k.a your children) and all hell broke loose. Next thing you knew, the first guest had arrived and you were still vacuuming the floor in your bra and undies. (Of course, I’m not speaking from experience! Don’t be so silly … ) So be sure not toAsk a close friend or two to help you out and pick up that missing ingredient for you, bring ice or come over early.
Real-life party disaster: See above anecdote.
20. Slumber party shenanigans
Planning a sleepover? First let me say, how very brave of you. To ensure as smooth a night as possible, it’s a good idea to send other siblings off to stay the night elsewhere. Set clear house rules and make it clear that any unkind behaviour will not be tolerated – it may also be a good idea to ban all electronic equipment. Be certain you have a way to reach all the parents in case a party-goer decides they don’t want to stay the night after all – a real possibility if the attendees are young. Most importantly, make yourself scarce and don’t quash the fun!
Real life disaster story: “I had a sleep over birthday party for my then nine-year-old daughter. One of the darlings tossed a huge temper tantrum. In her huff she stomped over to the phone (didn’t ask, of course) and called her grandmother to come pick her up (it was 11:30pm). Grandma was 45 minutes away, but dragged herself out of her warm house on a very cold night, only to be shooed away on arrival because the young miss had changed her mind.”
This article was written by Zoe Meunier for Kidspot.com.au and has been adpated for Kidspot.co.nz