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Tips for a successful birthday party

As another year rolls around and we edge closer to my son’s birthday, I start thinking yet again about what I will do this year to help him celebrate this momentous occasion.

Children’s birthday parties are such a great way to show off your creative side.

No matter the age of your children, you can have great fun organizing a child’s birthday party.

From coming up with different themes, to thinking up unusual ways of keeping young kids occupied during the two hours they are under your care, to decorating, to what you feed them and of course, the piece de resistance…the cake…

Here’s some tips for a successful child’s birthday party:

Truth or Dare birthday party

  1. Think of a theme

Having a party ‘theme’ is a great way to hang the whole party together. Until they are teenagers they will be really into it. And there are so many themes to choose from, depending on the age and stage of your child.

Everything from Teddy Bear Picnics for babes, Carnival Parties, Magic parties, lego parties, Disney character parties, Pirates…there’s something to suit every age and stage.

I’ve done everything from the obvious ‘Fairy tea party’ for my daughter, to Scooby Doo Mystery parties for my son where the kids had to follow a series of clues in order to find the cake…to ‘jungle parties’ held at Woodhill forest with a Jungle cake and tree climbing as entertainment…

If you have a theme it allows you to tie everything into it – from the invites, to the decorations, to the food, to the games, to the cake and the kids love it.

A friend recently held a ‘basketball party’ for her son. On arrival everyone got given a basketball tshirt with their name on the back and the birthday child’s name on the front. They had a basketball lesson, played a game and then had cake

Other great ideas for boys are ‘army parties’ – organizing obstacle courses, races and the such like – you can face paint children’s faces cameo-style and even get them doing challenges like putting up tents, building a fire – things that will wear them out and be heaps of fun.

Another idea is a neuf war party – get all the kids to bring their own neuf guns, put them into two teams, make some rules and take them to somewhere with lots of green space for them to run and run…or a water balloon/water pistol party if it’s summer.

My daughter had a water slide party – literally all we did was put up a water slide which entertained the girls for 3 hours – they did have a quick break for some food – then went straight back onto the waterslide again. They were exhausted at the end of the day!

Other ideas for girls -you can do the old-fashioned high tea party or girls love things like doing each other’s hair so a ‘beauty salon’ party is a great idea.

Colour their nails, let them have fun and go to town.

My god-daughter had a Luau – they bought a heap of grass skirts from the $2 shop and had real coconuts for the girls to drink out of, decorated the whole place like a tropical island and had games like Pineapple bowling going on.

Discos, movie nights, cupcake parties (where you get the children baking or decorating cupcakes), art parties or good old-fashioned games parties…there are so many ideas and themes around and plenty of inspiration.

Check out Pinterest for lots of great theme ideas and ideas for decorating your house and the cake.


  1. Choose a Venue that works for your needs

When choosing a venue for your child’s birthday party there are a few things that you need to have top of mind:

  • Your budget (i.e. can you afford to hire somewhere or is it going to be more cost-effective to just have it at a local park or at home)
  • How many people you’re inviting (if you’ve got a small house and it’s in the middle of winter, either limit the no. of people you’re inviting or take the party elsewhere)
  • The age and stage of your child – it’s probably not the best idea to host a party for toddlers at a beach or local pool where no parent will be able to relax at all, especially you as host. If you have particularly young children, either keep it at home or go somewhere that especially caters for youngsters.
  • The weather – nobody can ever totally predict the weather but it’s usually pretty safe to bet that whilst you can get away with choosing a park as your venue in summer, you’ll need an indoor venue from June-August at least…or at least an alternative plan.

There’s no shortage of great venues around.

Everywhere from the local park, to the local outdoor/ indoor pools.

Some schools and kindy’s rent out their halls for party and lots of community centres and your local YMCA will do the same.

Or if you’re tying your theme to your venue then you’re sorted eg rock-climbing centres/ trampoline parks/ theme parks/ rollerskating rinks/ gymnastic stadiums/ paint pellet or laser gun venues/ bowling or even a massive maze…

This year my son wants to go to Escape Masters – where they lock you in a room and you have 60 minutes to escape.

I’m thrilled. The idea that I can sit outside reading my book and drinking coffee whilst my son and 8 of his friends are stuck on the other side of the wall trying to think their way out totally makes this the best birthday party I’ll have ever hosted….


  1. Plan and stick to your budget

Birthday parties, if you’re not careful, can easily spiral out of control. Choose your numbers and venue with your budget in mind.

Work out what’s more important to your child – is it having all 12 of his friends there or is it going to the local theme park. If he wants 12 of his friends, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to afford to take all 12 to the theme park so sit with him and work out his priorities.


  1. Have a Plan B

Your child may have their heart set on a certain theme or venue but availability or cost may pose a problem. Have a back up plan just in case.


  1. Clear Instructions

Be clear on your invite about what to wear, whether siblings are invited, directions to house or venue, whether parents should stay or leave (there’s that awkward age between 5/6years where the children are still young but most hosts don’t want the hassle of having to cater for or look after the parents as well as their child’s party..)


  1. Catering for Children’s Birthday Parties

Dessert barSimple fun party food:

  • Cocktail sausages (cherios)
  • Fairy bread (simply take thin white bread, cut the crusts off, spread a thin layer of margerine on it and sprinkle it with 100s and 1000s. You can even use cookie cutters to make them into nice and fun shapes.
  • Popcorn (healthier than potato chips and just as loved)
  • Cheese and pineapple on toothpicks (you can make little hedgehogs with them)
  • Mini sandwiches (use soft/ easy fillings such as fresh salmon/ tuna mousse or egg and cut them into shapes to make them more appealing)
  • Fruit & Marshmallow kebabs
  • Strawberries (big bowls of strawberries, grapes or other yummy fresh berries and fruit are always appealing)
  • Carrot sticks & hummus (it is great to get something healthy down the children at a party)
  • Cupcakes/ Butterfly cakes (what child doesn’t like those? You can even theme them – I made pink pig cupcakes with pink icing and marshmallows, or you can make little faces using smarties and other sweets)
  • Mini hot-dogs
  • Mini hamburgers (or sliders)
  • Pizza (simply order or make home-made large pizzas for the children to dive into)
  • Pretzels dipped in chocolate (sort-of healthy, but really yummy none-the-less)
  • Ice-cream cones stuffed with cupcake
  • Jelly (you can set it with things inside to make it fun and colourful eg recently for my son’s birthday I set green jelly with snake candy in and the kids LOVED it)
  • Milk (jugs of flavoured, colourful milk is a little bit different to serve as a drink and looks lovely)
  • Juice boxes often make life easier too
  • Other ideas are to pack little treat boxes for each child with boxes of raisins, mini sandwiches, little sausages and a cupcake and juicebox each
  • Or pack a big hamper full of delicious treats if you are lucky enough to have a child with a summer birthday.


  1. The Birthday cake
  • Don’t get caught up in the competition of the cake (it’s easy to put pressure on yourself to make the PERFECT cake –  but the truth is, if it slopes to one-side, your child will still love it)
  • Only make or decorate the cake if you want to – if you don’t, just buy a sponge from the local store, cover it in icing and candy and they will think it is just as gorgeous. A girlfriend of mine baked 3 different cakes, ruining each one before running out to the supermarket at 9pm the night before the party, picking up a sponge, covering it in pink icing and sweets and sticking her child’s Barbie doll in it so it looked like she was wearing an elaborate skirt. The little girl was thrilled!
  • Cheat – buy ready-made cake mix or a sponge to save on time with the actual baking so you can spend more on the decorating.
  • It doesn’t matter what it tastes like – they just lick the icing off anyway.


  1. Party GamesSlumber party

Children love the simple and old-fashioned games:

  • Pass the parcel
  • Put the tail on the donkey
  • Musical statues/ chairs or bumps
  • Dancing competitions
  • The Memory Game (put 5-10 items on a tray, depending on the age of the children, cover them with a cloth and let the children write down which items they remember were on the tray)
  • Nature hunts (divide the children into small teams with one adult per team, arm them with a list of 5 items they have to “find” in the garden – anything from a golden leaf to a pretty stone,  give each team a basket to collect their goodies – it keeps them entertained for ages)
  • Mystery Treasure Hunts (if they are older you can actually make a proper mystery treasure hunt with clues – I recently organised a Scooby Doo birthday party for my 6 yr old and I left clues in all sorts of places for the children to find – in the party pinata, in one of the blown up balloons, in a bathful of foam…they  had great fun finding and reading all the clues and trying to work out what each one meant and then trying to find the next one. At the end of the hunt they were led to the CAKE and it was a great way to start the party tea off)
  • Bobbing for apples or donuts on a string
  • Party pinatas – always great fun!
  • If you have a sandpit, or spare corner of garden, bury some pretty stones or chocolate coins in gold wrapping and give each child a spade to find their ‘treasure’


  1. Relax and Enjoy

Try not to get too caught up in the cake and theme details. Remember that this is a monumental occasion as you mark another wonderful year with your child.  Take some time to enjoy the occasion and reflect on all the memories of the past years.


Written by

Jacqui Lockington is a working mum. Jacqui works full-time for an advertising agency in New Zealand and juggles life at work with being mum to two young children, Jack and Sasha. Jacqui is married to John and has published her first book with co-author, Nat - If Only They'd Told Me. She does public speaking and regularly blogs and records podcasts. Jacqui trained in journalism in London and worked in radio, newspapers, public relations and advertising before moving to New Zealand where she currently lives with her family. You can contact Jacqui at