From popcorn and candyfloss machines to face-painting, pony rides, and puppet shows, some parents go all out when it comes to their child’s birthday party. Often the celebration comes with great stress and a very high price tag. Is all this necessary? Not according to Joan Tindale, principal at Greenpark Nursery School in Johannesburg, who insists that less is more when it comes to children’s parties. This is ironic, given the amount of stress that every mom inevitably experiences when planning her child’s party – which turns what should be a sincere celebration into a worry-fest regarding the venue, food, and entertainment. So how do you bring back the joy of planning your little one’s event?
Keep your budget in check
Most moms moan about the party’s cost, but it is possible to host an event without breaking the bank.
An easy area to save money is the food. Party packs can also be expensive, but Joan believes that a take-home gift shouldn’t be obligatory – you’ve just treated the kids to a fun day. Melinda’s tip is to keep things small or use an activity at the party to create something the children can take home.
General themes are more cost-effective than specific ones. You’ll pay less for polka-dot balloons and serviettes than those decorated with an obscure superhero.
If you’re set on a party at a venue, bear in mind that your local park is as good an option as a hired space. The flip side, though, is that the venue may offer added value, like activities, or even the fact that you don’t have to tidy up.
Similarly, a planner may take the stress out of the day, especially if you work. “Let your planner know how much you can spend, and she has to make everything happen within those parameters,” Melinda suggests.
Remember, you can’t control everything – meltdowns may happen. “Be kind but firm, and remove the child from the cause of the upset,” Joan advises – but bear in mind that it’s her party, and she can cry if she wants to.
Trim the guest list
The first thing to remember is that the party is for your child – not for you. That should alleviate a lot of pressure, especially when it comes to the guest list. Joan advises that the younger your child, the smaller the guest list should be.
What about all the kids who are going to feel left out when their invitations don’t arrive? “Your child will most likely have a birthday ring at school, where they will have a chance to celebrate with their friends. That means your party at home can be for family friends,” explains Joan.
If you decide to invite school buddies, don’t be afraid to let moms know that the invitation doesn’t extend to siblings. Don’t feel bad, because older siblings are bound to find the party boring since the activities and entertainment on offer aren’t age-appropriate. Babies will require all mom’s attention, which means that the guest, who might feel a little overwhelmed at being in an unfamiliar setting with a high potential for sensory overload, won’t be able to get the assurance she needs to feel confident.
Limit the party hours
As adults, we immediately imagine that parties equal fun. However, the reality is that they can be stressful for kids, such as the shy birthday girl who finds herself on show or the child who hates loud noises.
This is why Joan recommends limiting parties to two hours. You can also reduce the “fear factor” by welcoming kids into your home as you would an adult. “Take the time to show them where everything is, from the food to the bathroom. Let them know that your dogs are friendly, and tell them if any area is out of bounds. Remember that something that’s fine for your child may be scary for others in the group – maybe some of them don’t like clowns, for example.”
On that note, decide with your child beforehand if there are any toys that she would prefer her guests not to play with. Hide these away before the guests arrive, so there are no awkward “Jamie-won’t-share-with-me” moments.
Ditch the sugar
Sugar can be a mom’s nightmare. But, Joan says, the party doesn’t need to rival a sweet shop for kids to have fun. Choose a few snacks and include some healthy options. “Children won’t refuse food just because it’s healthy,” she says, so get those fruit kebabs ready.
Melinda notes that kids generally don’t eat much at parties, so this is one area where you can cut down.
If you’ve decided to host the party at a venue, don’t worry about ordering food for the kids, as it may all go to waste. There’s no need for a special kids’ restaurant either – the point of a party is to play, not to stand around a table.
Don’t overstress about entertainment
“Moms always worry that some of the kids won’t have fun or will feel left out,” observes party planner Melinda Connor of Pretty Things For You. “I’ve found, party after party, that kids entertain themselves and pretty much do their own thing. If you’re offering a specific activity and they’re not into it, they’ll find something else to do. What kids need to have fun and what we think they need can be two different things.” Joan agrees, pointing out that children inevitably sort out their own games, perhaps with a little direction from their parents.
If you’re still worried about entertainment, you can always turn to old-fashioned party games, such as pass-the-parcel, which Melinda says are making a comeback.
However, something to be aware of is that younger kids (below the age of five) battle with the concept of winning and losing, especially if, despite trying their best, the winner is chosen by chance.
Melinda says that for babies up to the age of three, entertainment isn’t much of a focus, although you can bring out some soft-play equipment to keep them busy.
Face-painters and magicians are just not necessary, Joan adds.