Ah, birthday parties. Cherished milestone marker of another trip around the sun…and the near undoing of some parents. We’ve rounded up some common party pitfalls parents encounter and offer solutions to avoid them.
1. You don’t know where to throw it.
Having a party away from home makes for less prep work and cleanup, but the gamut of off-site venue choices can be overwhelming.
Solution: Look at your child’s interests. Do your kids take swimming, karate or art classes? See if those facilities offer you deals on parties. Our oldest son adored fire trucks, so we held his fifth birthday at Cockeysville Volunteer Fire station. There were super cool demonstrations and activities, and our payment was a charitable contribution. Thrifty ways to celebrate abound. Check the family calendar in this magazine for ideas! If you’re willing to splurge on a hot spot, popular kids’ venues include trampoline gyms, indoor skydive arenas and day spas.
2. You feel pressure to compete.
It may feel like fans of MTV’s “My Super Sweet Sixteen” grew up and became parents who need to out-do each other.
Solution: Let’s dial it down. More isn’t always better. Parties don’t need to happen every year. Big parties are fun, but a special date with you, or an activity with a bestie, can be just as great.
Note: As for baby’s first birthday, scores of parents—especially those of first-borns—go wild in celebrating that early milestone. Best-case scenario? The guest of honor won’t sleep through it, throw up or cry. Really, all you need is a little cake to smash for a cute photo, and call it a success! Don’t lose sight of the guest of honor.
3. You need a sleepover substitute.
Many younger kids desperately want a sleepover party experience, but they aren’t quite confident enough for an overnight (for us, age nine was the magic number).
Solution: When my daughter was six, she attended a “pancakes and pajamas” birthday party held on a Saturday morning. The girls arrived in pj’s and slippers and enjoyed dancing, games and a pancake bar with lots of toppings. Brilliant!
4. You can’t seem to keep it confidential.
Nobody wants to be excluded, but it generally isn’t practical to invite everyone your child knows!
Solution: Help your child prioritize guests, and discuss why no one should be broadcasting the plans. Use Evite or mail for invitations, and let parents know who else is on the list to help keep it contained.
Many teens, tweens and even younger kids have cell phones and post on social media, so it’s a good idea to request that devices stay home. My teen daughter went to a party where phones were collected at the door, which let the kids focus on enjoying the moment rather than incessantly documenting it.
5. You find yourself with uninvited guests.
Birthday crashers are often guests’ siblings.
Solution: Note clearly on the invitation if sibs cannot be accommodated. For younger kids, you may want to state whether or not the party is a drop-off.
Have extra snacks on hand anyway. At a recent party my preschooler attended, literally moments after it began, a parent asked the host if there would be enough pizza for the adults because he was starving!
6. Your child’s honesty comes off as rude.
Bless their little unfiltered mouths. It’s embarrassing when a child opens a gift and says “I don’t like it!” or “I got this already.”
Solution: A little advance prep can help your child be more mindful of such comments. Many kids don’t even open gifts at the party anymore (unfortunately, that denies the gift-giver some of the joy of giving). Set a rule that the gift can’t be used until the giver is properly thanked, and watch how fast it gets done!
7. You don’t want to deal with goodie bags.
Does anyone really need more superballs, temporary tattoos or dollar-store lip gloss?
Solution: Consider sending guests home with a book or a plant instead. Or, try a party activity that doubles as a take-home: Design a hat, paint a flowerpot, make an ornament or decorate a frame.
Birthday celebrations do make kids ridiculously happy. They’re not effortless, but don’t let stress take over. Do your best to steer clear of the pitfalls, and trust that your child will look back fondly on birthday celebrations for years to come (well, except the first three… those won’t be remembered).
8. A party guest has a severe food allergy.
One of the party guests has a severe food allergy and you’re nervous about what to serve and how to avoid making the guest feel ostracized.
Solution: Call the guest’s parents and find out exactly to what their child is allergic. Offer to plan your menu accordingly. If the source of the food allergy is as ubiquitous as wheat, you may have to get a little creative—especially with the birthday cake. But with some advanced planning and the strong awareness that exists among grocers and bakers these days, you are likely to circumvent the problem. If the parents remain uncomfortable with this idea, suggest that they bring some of their child’s favorite snacks to the party, and make sure they drop off the party guest with an Epi-pen just in case.
Visit our Party Directory for great resources!