Dos & Don'ts of Throwing a Kid's Birthday Party

I've been to a lot of kids' birthday parties. While I've had fun at some, most were a form of low-grade torture, and I'm sure many other parents would agree (my husband flinches every time he hears another party's on our calendar). So, in the hopes of alleviating widespread party guest misery, we decided to poll party planning experts on guests' pet peeves. Here are ten dos and dont's at a kid's birthday party, from the instant you send off your invites to the end of the festivities.

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  1. Do invite "everyone." If you (understandably) don't want to invite everyone from your child's softball team or girl scouts troop, prepare to pare down your guest list a lot. "If you only leave out one or two kids, that won't look good," warns Helen Holden, co-founder of the kids birthday party planning site CountingCandles.com and mom of four-year-old twins. Instead, keep the group to an intimate and logical core: Invite just girls to your spa party, or just two or three close buddies. "That way, parents will be much more understanding of the fact that their kid is not invited should they find out," says Holden.
  2. Don't write "No siblings" on the invitation. "This may be controversial, but some people do get offended when you say that siblings are not allowed," says Holden. "Instead of stating whether or not siblings can come to the party, just don't mention it. That way, people will hopefully ask before bringing siblings. Then you can politely say that you prefer not, but if the parent has no other care alternative then okay. Worst case the parent will RSVP with the additional kids and you will have to plan for the extra kids. You should always assume a couple extra kids will show up and plan accordingly."
  3. Don't make gift requests. "The request for lavish gift or stating 'cash gifts' is a big pet peeve," says Greg Jenkins, event/party planner at Bravoevents-online.com. Why? Because it makes you look greedy and materialistic, that's why. If you do provide a wish list directory, make sure to include plenty of budget-friendly options.
  4. Do feed the adults. Yes, it's ultra important that Conner and Chloe get their juice boxes and cake... still, their moms and dads deserve something to nosh on, too, and they probably want something other than sugar. "In addition to providing separate food for the adults, there should be a dedicated sitting or standing space for the adults to talk while the kids are doing organized activities," says Holden. "Birthday parties are good opportunities for adults to get to know each other, bond, discuss teachers and schedule play dates."
  5. Don't freak out over messes or meltdowns. "There is bound for something to go wrong during the party no matter how much you have tried to plan for the unexpected," says Holden. "When kids are involved meltdowns will happen, food will get spilled, balloons will pop -- it's all part of birthday party planning. When this happens, try your best to fix the situation but don't get flustered. Your child and your guests will sense if you seem upset and you don't want to rain on your child's happy day." If a fight breaks out, separate the kids, or distract them with another activity, or if all else fails ask the parent to take the kid to another room or outside to cool off.

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  6. Don't expect the guests to entertain themselves. While the kids will want to play, their parents will want to relax -- so don't let them get sucked into cleaning up the pizza plates or refereeing a soccer match if that's not their speed. "Do not let parents get involved with the kids unless they want to," says Vicki Hoefle, author of Duct Tape Parenting. Hire a clown, horse magician -- anything to take the onus off the adults to have to entertain the kids. "Expecting the guests to provide the activity to stimulate their own kids during the party is a big no-no," says Jenkins. "Typically, that is the responsibility of the host."
  7. Do tell guests what they need to bring. "Don't forget to mention on the invite things to bring for your venue," says Holden. "If your child's party has a trampoline where wearing socks is required to hop on, make sure your guests know that, and bring several extra pairs for those that forget." If you child's party is outside at a water park or pool, then make sure you remind guests to bring sunscreen, towels, water shoes, and a change of clothes. If you have a piñata, make sure you supply bags to hold the candy. "Kids have a blast trying to whack candy out of the piñata and then sprint to collect as much candy as possible, but their pure joy can quickly turn to tears once they realize that holding candy in the fold of their shirt is not going to work," says Holden. So, give kids a place to put their stash. 
  8. Don't open gifts. "One of the things that you should not do while hosting a kid's birthday party is open the gifts," says event planner Simone Jones Tyner. "It totally brings down the energy of the party. What kid wants to sit still to watch another kid open a bunch of toys he or she won't be able to play with? It can also be awkward as the value of the gift can (and usually is) judged by other parents in attendance." If the kids is less than four years of age it can be a particular no-no, since at that age, "It's typically the parents who unwrap the gifts," says Jenkins. "There is only so much 'gaga-googoo' or Oooooh and awwws that anyone can do without going into boredom."
  9. Do say goodbye to each guest as she leaves. "Don't forget to thank each kid and parent personally for coming," says Holden. "As the host you should be standing by the door as people leave so that you can thank each person. It is no fun when the party ends, you leave without a word. You want to make the guests feel appreciated that they took the time to celebrate your child's important day and let the guests know that your child values their friendship."
  10. Do send "Thank you" notes. "Make sure you have someone jot down who gave what gift as the child is opening the gifts," says Holden. "Also the longer you wait to send out the Thank You notes, the harder it becomes to really remember what the gift was and the harder to write a meaningful and personalized note. Another trick is to include a handwritten Thank You note in the goody bag that is handed out as the party ends. That way you avoid the stress of post party Thank You note writing."

What's your pet peeve as a guest at a kid's birthday party?

Image © Chris Crisman/Corbis

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