Unless you’re the type of person who doesn’t mind taking out a small mortgage for your child’s birthday then birthday’s – and parties in particular – can be fraught and stressful for most parents.
Incredibly it’s mums themselves who put the most pressure on themselves around creating the perfect birthday for their child.
Following are some of the pitfuls we parents open ourselves up to with organizing our children’s birthday parties and some tips on how to deal with them.
1. The need to ‘outdo’ other birthday parties
For some reason we mums’ think that our kids’ parties should be better than every other party in the neighborhood. We spend small fortunes on hiring the perfect venues, bringing in entertainment or taking the children to a mini Disneyland.
I know parents who have hired full-on ex army guys to do boot-camps for their kids or who have hired an array of bouncy castles and mini farms/ petting zoos and even organized spa days to keep their kids happy.
Tell me – what’s wrong with the birthday parties of old? At home in the lounge with musical chairs, pass the parcel and pin the tail on the donkey.
Is it that we need to out-do the other families or is it that we are afraid that if we don’t outsource the project management of our party, it will be a flop?
Instead, scared out of our wits incase our children get ‘bored’ we hire teams of fairies, clowns, donkeys and caterers to do the work. And end up paying a small fortune for the privilege.
Some of my children’s most successful parties have been the simplest ones.
My favorite was my son’s Scooby Doo party where the children became the Scooby gang and I set them up with a ‘mystery’ to solve. They had a series of clues to follow to find out where the birthday cake was. They loved the ‘mystery’ of trying to solve the puzzles and the reward of the cake at the end was just brilliant. To get to the mystery they had to do all sorts of things like pop balloons to find the next clue, or bash a piñata to let out another clue. It was just brilliant – and didn’t cost much to do at all.
For my daughter I organized a garden party with a treasure hunt and each child had to collect a series of things like a green leaf, or the petal of a flower. When they collected each item on the list they were awarded a lolly bracelet as a reward – and the collecting of each item kept them entertained for hours.
If you have younger children, often they are even easier to entertain. The best games are the oldest games. The chocolate game, pass the parcel, musical chairs, musical statues, pin the tail on the donkey, blind man’s bluff or even just dancing contests keep kids entertained for ages and only cost you the price of a small prize.
This week, because it was my son’s birthday, I asked the children what makes a good party. This is what my daughter said:
1. Have balloons
2. Have nice food
3. Have a cake
4. Have some friends to play games with
So there you have it – from the horse’s mouth.
So – tip #1 – Keep it simple. Don’t go too over-the-top. Children can be entertained easily – especially when they are with other children. They entertain each other!
2. Keeping the birthday cost down
Birthday parties can be expensive – when you think about the food, the cake, the take-home bags, invites and prizes for games, entertainment or venue if you have that too – we are talking $100s of dollars adding up – and that’s not even counting your own child’s birthday present.
If you take tip 1 and keep things simple you don’t have to worry about the cost as much as if you decide to hire a venue or people to entertain. However, it can still get expensive and there’s definitely ways of keeping the cost down e.g. using family or friends to do the ‘entertaining’ – I hired my brother-in-law to dress up as Scooby Doo one year for example.
And forget about the ‘goodie bags’ – they’re a pain in the neck and, considering they are full of crap, they cost a small fortune. I never forget spending close to $100 one year on goodie bags – just a few bits of junk that would be thrown out by the other parents as soon as it reached home I’m sure.
If you must do something to take home then do a slice of the birthday cake or a lollipop or a balloon or something easy and low-cost. Or do nothing at all – it’s not the other kids birthday party at the end of the day – why should they get a present?!
But the biggest piece of advice is to have a birthday budget.
TIP #2 – Have a budget and stick to it. Work out how much you can afford as a family and also what is most important to your child. Work back from there. e.g. if for your child it’s really important to go ice-skating for her birthday and you know it’s going to cost X then limit the numbers to a couple of close friends and go home for the cake afterwards…
There seems to be some sort of unwritten rule amongst mums that says that every birthday cake is part of a ‘competition’ We put ourselves under such pressure to bake or buy the perfect cake.
Earlier this year I decided to make a Piñata cake for my daughter. 2 days, 15 bars of melted chocolate and lots of tears later I finally managed the chocolate shell. When I took it out, it took one swipe with the hammer and all my hard work was smashed to smithereens. I won’t be doing that again.
But strangely us mums love basking in the oohs and ahhh as our cakes come out. We proudly display them, enjoying being the centre of attention and envy at our own child’s party.
Dad’s have got it right – they don’t get the ‘cake competition’ thing at all. My husband scratches his head each birthday as I cover the kitchen in flour and icing and repeats “What’s wrong with a store bought sponge covered in smarties?”
I know he’s right – at the end of the day all they do is lick the icing off and leave most of the cake on the floor anyway.
So TIP# 3 – Don’t succumb to the pressure of the cake. Cheat as much as possible. Use cake mixes/ store bought sponges/ whatever you can to make your life as easy as possible. It will be devoured in a matter of minutes anyway.
Party invitations can cause more harm than good. You can never invite everyone in the class to the party (or maybe you can if you’re trying to outdo the other mums!). So there will always be some children missing out – and that’s just life.
You can, however, as a mum, be respectful to the other children who aren’t invited, and to their parents and be careful about how you handle the invitations.
For example, if there’s 10 boys in the class and you’ve invited 8 of them to the party, then that’s pretty mean and it’s not teaching your child kindness either.
Likewise, giving out party invitations at school can be heart-breaking to children not receiving an invitation. I’ve seen a little girl fighting back tears before as another girl paraded her party invitations to the whole class and made a song and dance about singling out those invited.
So TIP #4 – be humble about the invitations and respectful to others. Send invitations to homes or hand-deliver on a weekend. Think about how your own child would feel if they were the only one not invited to a party – and how you would feel as the parent. You can’t invite everyone but at the same time, don’t just leave 1 or 2 out.
5. Good Birthday Party Etiquette
Something about birthday parties brings out the worst in some children. I’ve been to parties where kids have snatched the present from me as I’ve walked down the driveway and ripped it open straight away. Only to throw it on the floor and grab the next unsuspecting guest.
I’ve also been to parties (and hosted them) where you have to fend off greedy grubby hands from stealing the lollies and decorations of the birthday cake.
And oh…those children who keep asking me for their ‘take-home bag’ as the party is ending.
I’m very strict about birthday party etiquette in my house and there’s a couple of tips that make your life as a host/hostess of the party (and as a guest!) easier.
TIP #5 – Receive the presents respectfully – we have a large bucket/ box which I decorate with balloons and ribbons and that is the birthday present box. My children have been taught that it is rude to ask and expect a present but if someone does happen to bring them a gift they must politely say thank you and put it in the box to open later.
At the end of the day, after cake and before all the guests go home, we sit them in a circle around the birthday child and each guest child gets to pick their present out of the box and hand it to the birthday child. Then the birthday child can open it nicely and really appreciate and understand what has been bought for them. Not only are they more aware of the gift that person has taken the time to buy, but the other children love seeing their friend get pleasure from something they have given them.
(it also allows me to write down the present list by each guests name which makes life easier for thank you cards!).
So there you have it – my top tips for a hassle-free birthday party
And remember – children are easily pleased.
For the Paul Henry interview click here: