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How to survive a children's birthday party


A children's birthday party

A children's birthday party

Ali Coghlan with her children, Harry and Nicole

Ali Coghlan with her children, Harry and Nicole


A children's birthday party

Back in the day when life was simple and children really were happier with their lot, a birthday party usually consisted of a bottle of red lemonade, a bowl of crisps and a cake of some sort (my birthday cakes were often made from two blocks of ice-cream stuck together with chocolate squares for windows, a flake for a chimney and a Smartie path).

All the children in the neighbourhood popped in for cake, a few games were played and everyone went home happy. I don’t even think presents were involved, but nonetheless, parties were great fun.

But oh, how times have changed. Children of today have come to expect circus extravaganzas for their birthday parties. If one child has an entertainer at theirs, the next expects a Big Top complete with clowns and furry animals. And what is the worst aspect of this utter madness, is the parents who are providing the outlandish events for their little darlings.

Last week, the issue came to a head with one five-year-old in the UK (Alex Nash) receiving an invoice for not turning up to his classmates’ party at a dry snow slope in Plymouth.

 Firstly, the very idea of taking a group of children so small somewhere they can go tobogganing and snow-boarding is extraordinarily lavish (what on Earth will they ask for in ten years’ time?) and, secondly, the notion of billing parents for a no-show is beyond comprehension.

Of course, everyone should have the courtesy to extend their apologies if unable to attend, but has it really come to this?

We spoke to some Irish mums to find out what they think of this situation and whether or not this trend for over-the-top parties, is has embedded itself on our shores.


We had parties in the back garden

Ali Coghlan, from Wicklow, is married to Stuart and has two children – Harry (4½ and Nicole 1½). She thinks the no-show party debate highlights faults on both sides. But says in general, children tend to be quite happy with whatever their parents lay on for them.

She also runs her own party business called www.craftea.ie where guests take part in various arts and crafts activities.

This, she says, is a compromise between the modest parties of old and the elaborate shindigs which have become so commonplace in today’s society.

“I think it’s crazy that a mother sent an invoice to a boy’s parents for not showing up to her child’s party. When planning a birthday party you have to set yourself a budget – if the boy had come to the party she would have had to pay for him anyway so sending an invoice because he didn’t show up is inappropriate and unnecessary.

“However, Alex Nash’s parents had rsvp’d to say he was going to go to the party so they should have gotten in touch with the other mum to say he wasn’t going to be able to make it. But I can understand that things happen last minute, kids get sick or plans change, anyone with kids knows this and most people would be more understanding

“In my day we had our parties in the back garden and my mum would put out a small table of rice crispy buns and she would make a cake and stick my Barbie’s head on the top of it.

“We would play pass the parcel and musical statues and we all had the best time ever. If we were really lucky we might have had a party in McDonalds or somewhere like The Fun Factory in Dun Laoghaire but the best parties I remember were the ones outside in the garden.

“My kids are quite young so we have just had small family parties. But last year my son went to the play centre with a few friends, which was great as I didn’t have to clean up the mess.

“I’m all for themed parties, but on a budget. Some people can get carried away and you can’t help but wonder if it’s for the child or the parent.

“This year my son is turning five in March and he has already requested that he wants to invite his whole class, so I’ll be renting the local hall for €50 and playing good old-fashioned party games with face painting and a  few surprises of my own, too. Being a party entertainer has its advantages.

“In my role as party organiser at www.craftea.ie I will come to a child’s party for an hour-and-a-half to do face-painting, nail tattoos, cupcake decorating and lip balm-making. I also do t-shirt stamping and mini birdhouse decorating and we play old-fashioned games and some modern versions.

“Luckily, I haven’t had the issue of people not-showing and parents wanting to issue invoices.  We charge per head so I ask the parents to confirm numbers before the party so that I can prepare the crafts.”

Child psychologist Dr David Carey believes that while parents should instil manners in their children by teaching them to respond correctly to invitations, sending invoices for a no-show is not a good lesson for them to learn.

“It is important for parents to teach children etiquette of all sorts, including the importance of replying to invitations,” he says.

“These are important skills and useful as the child grows. We are often judged by how we can interact in social situations, table manners and general courtesy. But I do not think it is proper to send invoices to people who do not show up as expected.”

The Dublin-based expert says the increasing practice of indulging children’s every whim, will not make for a happier child.

“Elaborate children’s parties are unnecessary and often serve the purpose of proving to others how wonderful the parents are, how generous and how financially well fixed,” he says.

“I find them a waste of money, foolish and in no way child-centred.

“Ultimately, a child’s party should be centred on the child, not on the parents or adults. Games, cake, music and fun are the key factors of a successful child’s party.” 

For more advice visit www.davidjcarey.com


Entertainers add to the party fun

Fiona O’Farrell is an acupuncturist at www.thegateclinic.ie in Greystones, Co Wicklow. She has three children Tiernan (8), Sophia Rose (6) and Will (4).

She believes that children are generally happy with what they get – and parents can organise memorable parties without breaking the bank or helping to create a demanding future generation.

“I think it is very unfair to be billed for not attending a children’s party. We have often missed parties at the last minute due to illness – that is the way kids are, whether it’s a sore throat or sniffles.

“If we are having a party for one of our kids, I usually expect a handful of no-shows – due to illness or the parents forgetting.

“Life is super busy with small kids so it’s very easy to forget when there is a party on, or if another after-school activity clashes. We parents are all in the same boat after all.

“With regard to my children’s parties, I think the goal is for the kids to have fun. There is so much choice now for entertainers and party organisers, but in general they are all good value and simply add to the fun of the party. They also take the pressure off, as entertaining 25 kids is very intimidating.

“But at our parties, we don’t give out expensive goody bags or book elaborate catering – the kids get a hotchpotch of homemade goodies. And it seems that as long as there are loads of giggles and smiling faces, everybody goes home happy.”