10 tips for a tantrum-free birthday party for kids
Party season is upon us and Olivia Willis has some tips on how to make sure your gathering is a stress-free zone.
Kids' birthday parties often start off with zeal and delight combined with excitement and anticipation, but can end in tears and that's just from mum and dad, I hasten to add.
Everyone has a different tolerance level for party planning, and when it comes to the potential for stressful logistics, kids' parties rank somewhere up there with wedding planning (for some!) while others thrive on it.
Some parents love big affairs with lots of people. Others want only a handful of guests… either way, like a good girl scout, it's best to be prepared.
'Generation X' parents always want to do what's best for children. Our own mums made every single birthday cake from scratch, with recipes from Darina Allen or Delia Smith. Nowadays it's the Jamie Oliver era, the Cath Kidston style or our attempts at the Great Irish Bake Off that keeps us on our toes.
In the same way that our mums did it for us, we also want to ensure that our own kids have those same special memories of their birthdays.
Anything you do will require some work.
Just sharing cake with a one-year-old can make a big mess, but it's lots of fun. And isn't that what it's all about; providing everyone - but mostly you and your little one - with a great time? Here's a round-up of some helpful tips and advice to help make sure that the birthday boy/girl and their friends and family all enjoy the day.
Short and sweet
Kids run on adrenaline and sugar before melting down when they've run on both for too long. A 1.5 - 2 hour party is plenty for children up to 5 years old and 2 - 2.5 hours is ideal for older kids.
Not to sound too regimented, but divide the time up into sections. For example; free play or an activity at the beginning, followed by games (Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs are always winners for the younger ones), followed by food and cake - and don't forget to have the goody bags ready when it's about 10 minutes to finishing time. Some child will always need to leave early and will be disappointed if they miss their bag of loot.
Keep the food simple and do as much in advance as possible. Also, don't panic about making separate food for the adults; most grown-ups love the nostalgia of kids' party food and happily munch away on the fare available. Tip: double the quantities you're making for the kids so there's enough for their plus one (i.e. their parents!)
Don't beat yourself up trying to make the perfect cake
Personally, I cannot ice. I can bake, but I'm not so great at the icing part. My cakes fail in comparison against the stunning, 'professional' looking cakes made by friends. So what? Kids will still love a lopsided, messily-iced creation. It will taste great and it's cut into a million pieces in seconds, so chill about the cake.
If you have more than one child, see if someone can babysit your kids on the morning of the party. This is a win-win. It will give you some much needed time to prepare and provide the kids with a welcome distraction from the excitement of the afternoon ahead.
Allow for some time to take care of yourself. Make time for a shower and a fresh change of clothes. You'll instantly feel calmer and more prepared to meet and greet with a smile.
Friends and family will offer to help. Let them! It might be making food or proposing to mind the kids. Accept all offers graciously. And don't be afraid to ask for help. You can reciprocate when it comes to their parties.
My kids are aged seven and three and the birthday parties are almost one a week for the older one. The mums in school got together and agreed a modest denomination that we stick to for each child's party. That way there's no competition, pressure or expectations. It also means that the birthday boy/girl gets to buy a present of their choosing after their birthday party and gets something that they really want (and it's nice that their school mates bought it for them). With other gifts received on the day, try not to let your little one open them until after everyone leaves. It will be hard, but in the case of toddlers, it's best as there can be a lot of grabbing by little people who think that everything is 'mine'. Jot down who gave you what (or assign Granny this job), then send short thank-you notes/text messages. A pain for a busy mum, I know, but it's appreciated by the guests.
For my kids, the party is all about the goody bags. They adore them - no matter what's in there - they just love going home with something. Don't drive yourself crazy (or broke) looking for expensive items. A box of chalk, a bottle of bubbles and a few jellies are perfect. Pop these in cute party bags from any discount store and you're laughing. Don't forget to make a goody bag for the birthday child too. That's very important!
Preparing Your Child
Being the party celebrity is hard, especially for very young kids. A toddler can be overwhelmed by the event, even if you discuss it beforehand, and kids aged 3-5 are tightly wound up with anticipation. Regardless, talk to them the evening before about what's going to happen.
Explain that other kids will want to see their room and play with their toys, so think about maybe hiding any special toys that your child can't bear to share.
Most importantly, remind them there's a reward when the whole thing's over: presents.
Ironically your little one won't actually notice most of the things you have sweated blood and tears over to make their day special. But they will notice the stress and the tense parent who's apologising for all the things that she didn't quite manage to do. So, most importantly, relax and enjoy yourself - and I promise that the birthday child will too.
Olivia Willis is the co-founder of www.familyfriendlyhq.ie, an Irish website with information for parents, things to do, blogs, reviews and expert family advice.