It's Party Time!

by Todd Nelson // April · May · June 2016

Parents of young children, consider this a love letter from those of us who have made pretty much every mistake in the book when it comes to planning and hosting kids’ birthday parties. The voice of experience speaks here. 

Before picking a date, inquire among your kid’s closest friends to ensure there aren’t any major conflicts. When considering the timeframe, may we suggest that 90 minutes is the perfect duration for a child’s birthday party. Too short and you will be sending people out the door with plates of cake. Too long and you raise the probability of boredom and destruction setting in. Think 30 minutes for arrivals and unstructured play, 30 for featured activities and food, and then 30 for cake and ice cream. Ninety minutes – boom! You’re done.

Sugared-up kids will always find ways – positive or negative – to burn the added energy off. The best parties offer plenty of positive energy-burn opportunities – think dancing, jumpy houses, sports, and any other games that involve lots of running.

Always specify an end time. If you say “until whenever” on your invitation, there is a good chance you will end the evening with kids sleeping over. Even with an end time, at least one parent will pick up late, so be sure you don’t have any plans right after the party.

Assume every kid in your child’s class is going to hear about the party so consider how you and your child might feel about being excluded. If your child desperately wants to exclude someone, dig deeply into why. There may be a natural antipathy between the two children; it’s okay if they don’t attend each other’s parties. But, if a child in question is only an acquaintance versus a good friend, invite him or her anyway. And never rely on your child to deliver invitations by hand, verbally, or via school. Digital invitations are great because they make it easy for parents to reply and you can send out reminders. Postal invitations are great too because kids love receiving mail addressed to them and you have all the addresses you need for promptly mailing out thank you cards later.

Don’t assume people are going to RSVP by your cutoff date, so count on kids showing up who never respond, and vice versa. If the big day is approaching and you haven’t heard from more than a few parents, start making calls. The last thing you want is for your child to be surprised or disappointed by guests not showing up.

Avoid personalizing goody bags, and make sure you have plenty of extras. Remember, kids will show to your party with no RSVP and parents will often arrive for pick-up with green-eyed siblings in tow. You will be glad to have extras on hand.

When parents are dropping off, ask about food allergies and obtain mobile phone numbers. Parents will often use party times to run errands, so you definitely want to be able to get in touch when Anna breaks out in hives after eating a strawberry or Tommy is bleeding from a tumble and you think he might need stitches.

If hosting an unstructured party in your home, plan at least a few uncomplicated activities, especially for those children who may be less comfortable socially. At the same time, be prepared to abandon all preplanned activities if the kids seem inclined to just play and create their own fun.

Ship your pet somewhere safe for the day. There will always be one child who becomes obsessed with your pet and wants to carry it around or feed it treats the whole time. There will be another who is absolutely terrified of animals. Shipping him somewhere safe ensures all are happy.

If accepting gifts, save opening them for a quiet time after the party. This prevents hard feelings if your child reacts the wrong way. It also precludes other kids from ripping open your kid’s gifts, and gives you an opportunity to record accurately who gave what for thank you cards later on.

With a little planning and a lot of patience, you will surely be able to pull off the party your little one has been dreaming of.

Todd Nelson

Owner of MaidPro of Raleigh and Wake Forest.