How to Host a Great Birthday Bash

Planning a birthday party can put even the most organized parent into a panic. Relax -- you can plan and host a successful birthday party -- and keep your sanity intact!

By Carol Band

Kids don’t care if the bathroom is spotless or the napkins match the drapes, they just want to have fun. Games, goodies, good stuff to eat – you can handle that. Here are some tips that will help you ensure that your child’s birthday party is a great success:

Thinking About a Birthday Party

With sufficient planning and a sense of perspective, you won’t need to lose any sleep worrying about your child’s next birthday party.

Ask yourself if you are ready to take on the soup-to-nuts planning of a home party or if a party away from home will better suit your needs. If you’re going to be a good sport and invite your child’s entire first-grade class, a party in a location other than your dining room may be a good idea.

Decide how many guests your location, budget and nerves will accommodate. The general (but often ignored) rule of thumb is to invite s many children as there are candles on the cake. Stick to it – you’ll be glad you did.

Involve your child in selecting a theme for the party. From pirates to princesses, themes bring the elements of the party together. You can’t overdo the theme. And this is where you can be creative. Even parties at indoor playgrounds and roller rinks can be personalized with decorations, goody-bag prizes and refreshments.

Pick an alternative location or rain date if you plan an outdoor party.

Getting Ready to Party!

Once you’ve decided on what kind of party to have and how many guests to invite, you can begin the real preparations. Keep your child involved whenever possible. Check out game books from the library and pick out decorations together. And relax, this is supposed to be fun.

Spend wisely. Hire reputable entertainers, or enlist the talents of a neighbor or relative. Don’t go crazy on the goody bags.

Set a time and keep it short. Two hours is plenty of time. For children under 5, an hour and a half may be plenty. Plan toddler parties for the morning when the kids are less cranky.

Send out invitations three to four weeks in advance.

Follow up with a phone call. People are so busy these days and little invitations easily get buried under piles of bills and lost on family bulletin boards.

Plan your party in 15-minute increments.If something keeps the kids happy and occupied, let them play.

Plan for more activities than you will need. Some games may be greeted with a lukewarm reception and you may need to move on to something else sooner than anticipated.

Keep snacks simple and plain.K If adults attend, offer them one type of beverage and light snacks.

Isolate the party activities so you can relax and enjoy the party without worrying about the mess.

Enlist help. Ask a friend to help take photographs, clear dishes or run games. Or hire a teen-age neighbor to provide those much-needed extra hands.

Always assemble an extra goody bag or two and have extra treats on hand. A child will bring along a sibling, a popsicle will fall in the dirt, a yo-yo will get broken.

Banish junk. Instead of a goody bag filled with candy and cheap toys, offer each guest a small wrapped gift – a packet of seeds and a trowel for a garden party, a magic wand for a wizard party.

Don’t spend a lot of time or energy on things that don’t really matter. Unless your child really wants you to make the cake from scratch, buy an undecorated sheet cake and spend your energy on making it look terrific.

The Big Day

Once the first guest arrives, the party has begun. Stay flexible, keep your sense of humor and have plenty of paper towels on hand.

Engage guests the minute they arrive. Have a craft or non-competitive game to pull newcomers into the party until everyone has arrived.

Know your guests. Anticipate which children will need coaxing to join games and who will be apt to tear down the streamers. Assign a special helper to a shy child so that you can devote your time to running the rest of the event.

Let the party flow. If an activity is going well, don’t rush to the next game. Let the children set the pace.

Open the gifts at the party. Although some parents think that watching the birthday child open presents is too hard on the guests, most kids really enjoy the ritual gift unwrapping, and they want to see the host open the present they’ve given.

Have extra art supplies and games on hand in case there’s time to kill before children are picked up.

Encourage your child to thank guests personally for their gifts and for attending the party. Here’s a perfect opportunity to practice manners!

Speaking of manners, don’t forget the thank-you notes.