How to have a birthday party

All of my son’s friends seem to have their birthdays within about four months of each other. As we approach the next round, anxiety seems to be growing. Do we do it at our homes? Would they behave if we went out in public? How much do we need to set up to entertain them? How much orange-dusted processed carbohydrate can one small person eat?

I turned to a writing group I’m in – a reliable source of knowledge about almost everything– and have gleaned these birthday party tips from those who’ve gone before.

Try for outside

It’s much less stressful if you don’t have to worry about what’s being ground into your carpet. If you can have a party in the garden, you can just leave much of the mess there for the rain to deal with. Bonus points if you have access to a dog who can do a good impression of a vacuum cleaner.

Not doing it at home is sometimes good…

If you want to make sure the party ends at a set time, you might want to do it somewhere else. That way, when the kids start doing their best interpretative-dance-style tantrums, you can pack up and leave. Local parks get an honourable mention. However, it should be noted that this works best for parties where parents remain present. If people are ditching – sorry, dropping – their kids with you, you’ll have to stay there til the last one is picked up.

Set up activity stations

A finger painting spot, a water balloon fight arena, a dance-off zone… set up spaces for the kids to move between so they can do what they feel like and you don’t have to corral them into any sort of formal game. There’s nothing like a forced game of Pass the Parcel to dampen the mood.

Hire entertainers

Yes, you could dress up in a superhero costume and prance around with the kids. But do you really want to?

You can find entertainers who haven’t been up all night looking after children, and will sail in for an hour of energy-busting running around – whether that’s something sporty, Lego, arty, creative or superhero-ish. Meanwhile, you smile beatifically and do nothing. Bliss. If you don’t have access to professionals, you could rope in some willing teenagers to oversee craft or games in return for a bit of cash.  A hired bouncy castle or a couple of cars for them to zip around in can also do the job.

Get them to DIY

Can you trick them into doing the work for you? Set up a sundae bar and get the kids to make their own icecreams. Have a pizza party where they create their own toppings.

Book a venue where they’re ready for you

Local pools and such places as McDonalds deal with more kids’ parties every week than many of us would wish to imagine. If you hold yours there, they’ll usually have a member of staff who’ll help keep things running smoothly – and handle the clean-up afterwards.

Don’t worry too much about presents

Lots of parents look askance at the growing pile of plastic that seems to accumulate each birthday and vow that next year, there’ll be no parents. Relax. Say no presents if you want, but know that most people will ignore it. Focusing on cutting down on junk purchases through the rest of the year is likely to be more effective.

Rent a kid-proof room

Local parents’ centres and kindergartens sometimes offer themselves up as venues for kids parties. This is often useful because they’re already set up for small people, there’s a supply of “new” toys to captivate your kids’ attention, you don’t have to worry about stuff getting broken and the gates usually lock so you won’t accidentally lose one.

Have fun

You might focus on the mismatched decorations or the terrible weather forecast but for your kids, it’ll barely register.  Focus on the good stuff and worry about the rest later. Nine months later, my son still talks about the dinosaur cake at his third birthday, which we ate crammed into the lounge because of a sudden shower.  He assures me his birthday was a perfectly sunny day.