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Birthday Party Tips

Between the two of us, Andy and I have done a crazy amount of birthday parties for kids in the New York area over the years. We are often asked for advice, so here are some observations. Please note that we’ve done plenty of parties that didn’t follow these rules and were still a wonderful experience- everyone is different! But if you’re looking for a place to start, here are some tips.

1. Breathe.

Try to keep in mind that this is first and foremost a celebration of your family’s life over the past year. You made it! Especially if your child is very young, this is just as much for you as it is for them. Build in things you will enjoy and don’t kill yourself trying to please and impress other people. We see too many parents become stressed out and nervous wrecks over whether their party will be a ‘success’ when it should be a joyful experience. Take a deep breath and remember that every penny and every minute you spend planning this party is a reflection of your love for your child- and with that in mind maybe you’ll enjoy the process a bit more!

2. Pick your priorities, plan accordingly.

There are a millions ways to throw a party and the reasoning behind them are all completely valid!

~Don’t want to spend an arm and a leg? Get creative! There are plenty of cheap thrills that kids absolutely love. Never underestimate the power of bubbles. Blow up a bunch of balloons, dump them out of a box and let the children bat them around the room, clean them up, and dump them out again. Tape bubble wrap to the floor and let them stomp around. Play freeze dance. Make musical instruments out of oatmeal boxes and toilet paper rolls, and decorate them with stickers. Create a play gym out of big cardboard boxes and duct tape, and let the kids decorate them with markers.

~Have some money to spend but no time to plan? Consider an all inclusive package from one of the kids companies around the city (Kidville, Gymboree, Karma Kids Yoga, Kids at Work, etc.). It’s pretty expensive but these places throw parties every weekend- they know what works. Trust them to take care of everything.

~Want the adults to enjoy themselves? There’s no shame in prioritizing that. Have a house party. Rent out a room at a restaurant. Just keep in mind that when adults let loose, they tend to be LOUD- especially if there is any alcohol involved. If you’ve hired a musician or performer of any kind to entertain the kids, make sure there is a quieter space somewhere with room for kids to sit on the floor. Encourage the adults to participate or quiet down for at least 20 minutes, otherwise you’re wasting your money- or you can always pay extra for the performer to bring and set up speakers and a microphone. Also consider hiring an extra hand to help keep an eye on the children while the adults play.

~Want your child to feel comfortable? Pick a space they already know and hire a performer they already love. Stick with activities they’ve done before and you know they enjoy. Consider inviting less people. Lots of kids get really overwhelmed with too many people and too much noise. A brand new experience might be exciting for you, but not every child loves being out of their comfort zone.

Everyone’s priorities are different. Be unapologetic about the things that are important to you- you’re the one who knows your family best.

3. Work with their attention span.

If you are the one putting together the activity plan, there’s one important guideline that’s really helpful- bring things out one at a time. You shouldn’t have a timeline that’s set in stone- that will cause way too much stress when things fall behind as they always do- but consider having an order you can follow. Kids are much more likely to be engaged in whatever you have planned for them if they only have one option at that moment. When toys are brought out and left out at the beginning of a party, it’s really hard to get them to put the toys down and they might miss out on something they’d really enjoy if they weren’t otherwise occupied. Consider setting up a station at the beginning with playdough, crayons, or really anything that is easy to put away. That will give the kids something to do while the other guests arrive but allow you to switch the focus when the time comes for the next activity. Things are much more exciting when they are first brought out- novelty is key for holding their attention- so maximize that excitement by giving them a bit of structure.

4. Expect that something will go wrong.

Just assume that things won’t go exactly as planned. Guests will come later than you expect. Your kid won’t nap, or will bonk their head, or be teething that day and will cry for most of the party. Drama with the in-laws, trouble with the pizza order, cake disasters, colds, weather- something is bound to fall apart. Sometimes the person who has the least fun at the party is the birthday kid, for no good reason. Try to pull back and look at the big picture- there are plenty more birthdays to come and your memory of this event will be much stronger than theirs (if they remember it at all). So much of the experience is completely out of your control, and if nothing goes wrong you won’t have any good stories to tell and laugh about later.

5. Prep for the things you can control.

Here is a list of things you can do the night before that will lessen your anxiety and help you enjoy the party.

~ Have at least one lighter on hand. I’ve even started bringing one to birthday parties because this is something that gets overlooked ALL the time. Also know that if the party is outside, you WILL have trouble lighting the candle, so don’t expect it to stay lit through the entire birthday song.

~ If you’ve hired help or performers, put their money in an envelope ahead of time and assign a relative or friend to distribute them. You will inevitably be busy talking to friends, cutting the cake, or changing diapers when they need to leave.

~ It’s almost impossible for an entertainer to hold the attention of a room full of toddlers if there are toys everywhere. To get the best bang for your buck, follow our tip #3 and have either a separate space out of sight for toys, clean them up before the entertainment starts, or bring them out after the entertainment is over.

~ We love song requests! They help make a party more personal and it’s always fun for us to learn new music. Often the kids really appreciate it- but know that sometimes your child really loves the RECORDING of that particular song. We can do a great version of the song on guitar, but can’t provide the drum beat or all the extras that make that particular recording special for the kid. Believe it or not, 5 Little Monkeys may get more of a response from your child at their birthday party than their favorite song.

~ Set out extra trash bags in boxes or trash cans so people can clean up after themselves easily. If people can easily locate a trash receptacle they’re more likely to use them. Less work for you and less mess throughout the party.

~ Wherever you hold the party, make sure there is an appropriate floor space for the kids to sit, with either carpet or some kind of mat for their comfort. The ABC foam square mats work just fine, but there’s always at least one kid who starts pulling the letters apart at an inappropriate time so tape a blanket over it. Yoga mats are also very versatile.

~ Avoid glitter, or you and your guests will be wearing it for weeks. It’s also a nightmare to clean up.

6. Enjoy yourself.

Time goes by so quickly. Whatever happens the day of the party, whatever you’re feeling, whatever happens, take a moment to soak it in. Better yet, assign someone else the job of pulling you aside at least once during the party and remind you to look around. Take a breath and thank your lucky stars that you can be here with the people that you love, celebrating something so wonderful.

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