Surviving Children’s Birthday Parties - Top 10 Tips For Parents

by Samantha on September 27, 2012

That time of the year has rolled around once again and you’re stressing about planning the perfect birthday party. Regardless of your child’s age, almost very parent deals with the pressures and anxieties surrounding this special occasion. Perhaps it’s because children put so much stock into this event. After all, it only comes once a year; as well, it’s the one day where your son or daughter is able to revel in being special (via gifts, treats, cakes and often money, of course).

Planning a birthday party for your child can be trying and surviving the experience is equally challenging. Fortunately there are some tips and strategies that parents can employ before the big event that will assure a rousing good time - with little stress - for all involved.

Following are the Top 10 Tips For Surviving Children’s Birthday Parties:

Surviving Children’s Birthday Parties - Top 10 Tips For Parents


1) Set the Stage -  This is the time to set expectations with your child. It’s important to do this well before the first kid enters your home, looking for a good time and a loot bag to boot. Your discussion about the upcoming party should include agreement on the “who, what, where, when and why” of the event. Some questions to consider may include: Who is going to be attending? Will you be inviting your child’s whole class or just a select few? Where will the party occur? Will it be at home or at another location (family or friend’s home, a restaurant or a child-friendly locale such as Chuck E. Cheese)? By laying the foundation and answering these important questions, you will avoid any misunderstanding, tantrums or tears later on.

2) Set Your Budget - Nothing is more of a downer for both a child and her parents than to make elaborate plans, only to realize that they are well outside the realm of the family bank account. Kids often have a skewed view of finances (who can blame them?) and this fact is never as apparent as when a birthday party is being planned. Children often feel that “the sky’s the limit” not realizing that it takes money to make the world go ’round. To this end, map out your finances before you talk to your kids, then present it to them as a fait accompli. Be firm, stand your ground and take comfort in the fact that you are being smart about your money.

3) Have a Game Plan - If the thought of many or even a few children under your watch for a few hours gives you the shakes, read on. A children’s birthday party, if done right, can be a fun and memorable experience. At the same time, lack of planning and a laissez-faire attitude will surely result in disaster all around. Avoid the latter by having a game plan or agenda about how the day is going to roll out. Whether you’ve determined that the party is going to be two hours long or five (hats off to you if you choose this option), each and every second of that time should be accounted for. This means an itinerary of events - even if the party’s at home - in order to keep things moving. From the time that the first child arrives to the final moments waiting for the last child to be picked up, have your activities planned. Some things to consider include: timing of food, games, opening presents and play. If you are doing the party away from home, or are hiring some type of entertainer (e.g. magician, etc.), factor the time for their activity, and what you will be doing before and after. And always account for “stragglers” - those kids who stay much longer than the party’s planned end time (due to parents being late for pickup and other realities).

4) Remember “Plan B” - All’s well that ends well isn’t always the case, especially when you’re dealing with a room full of kids. What is that expression about the best laid plans? At the risk of sounding cliche (by using yet a third platitude), remember what the Girl Scouts say: Be prepared. You may have spent countless hours on tip #3, making sure that every detail is planned right down to when the last child is picked up, only to have your plans quashed by unexpected events. These could include (but are not limited to) inclement weather (in the case of an outdoor party), illness (yours, your child’s or a guest’s), or death (the family goldfish). Whatever the case, you should make sure that you’re able to address a sudden change of plans, if the situation arises. The key here is being flexible and going with the flow. Remember: your child and their friends will take cues from you. If you’re anxious and stressed, so will be your young guests. If you take any unexpected event that is thrown at you in stride, so will the kids. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade (platitude #4).

5) The Goods - What party supplies will you need? Will this be a “themed” party or not? Are you going to invest in balloons, streamers and similar items, or are you keeping it low-key? What will you be putting in the loot bags, if you decide to have them at all? These are all questions that need to be answered before you continue your party planning.  Remember that you may need items that are not immediately obvious. These include extra plastic spoons and forks (because kids tend to use much more than they need), paper plates, napkins, and more. What’s clean-up going to be like? Make sure that you have the right items required for after the party so that you’re not left with a huge mess that can’t be properly addressed.

6) The Cake and Presents - Let’s face it Mom and Dad: it’s all about the cake and the presents when it comes to birthday parties, if you ask any kid. Besides the infusion of sugar mandated by most birthday cakes, there are the requisite gifts and they’d better be good. In terms of the cake, you’ll need to determine whether your child would rather a store-bought confection or your labour of love, baked by you. Personally, I always wanted the sugary, buttery and extremely unhealthy latter option when I was a child and was often disappointed when my mom slaved over a hot oven to present me with her celebratory offering. That being said, all kids are different, right? You may be the Martha Stewart of baking and may whip up a cake that no baker or store could match. If this is the case, great, but remember to check in with your child first. They may not care that you’ve got the talent; if they have their mind set on a store-bought themed cake or similar, put your pride aside and give in (within financial reason, of course). Regarding the gifts, always have some sure-fire options that your child will be thrilled to see. How, you ask? By doing some reconnaissance work weeks before the party, and casually asking your child. Believe me, they’ll tell you, because kids are smart like that. They know what you’re doing and perhaps, for the first time, they’re going along with your wishes.

7) Lights, Camera, Action! - Don’t forget that technology is an integral part of your party planning. After all, not having that perfect photo-op of your precious child blowing out the candles on his cake, or that one-of-a-kind picture of grandma hugging her only grandchild will be something that you’ll likely regret for years to come. I know, having your camera or phone charged and having your device loaded with batteries that work is often a pain, but so worth it. Make sure that you prepare your lineup of technology the day before the party and test them to make sure they work. You won’t regret it.

8) Bring in Supports - There’s no need to struggle to run the party on your own so bring in your friends or family to help you deal with the kids, if you can. Sometimes just knowing that another adult or two is present is enough to lower your stress level. On a more practical note, your supports can also help with transportation if the party is away from home, as well as set-up and clean-up. Don’t be afraid to ask, because your close friends and family will likely want to help if they can.

And some final thoughts for you when your children are attending other kids’ birthday parties:

9) Remember Etiquette - Of course you’ve taught your child to say “please” and “thank-you” but they often forget. Attending a birthday party at someone’s home or otherwise is a great opportunity for mom or dad to remind their child about behaving. Not only a refresher on “please” and “thank-you,” but a reminder about listening to the parents, keeping their voices down and general etiquette is never a bad idea - especially now.

10) Don’t Be a “Straggler” - Pick up your kids on time! Though it’s tempting to leave your kids just a wee bit longer to get that extra few minutes of peace, be respectful and come for your children on time. If the party ends at 4pm, be there no later than 4pm. A few minutes earlier is even better. Rest assured that the host parent(s) will likely be somewhat frazzled dealing with all of the kids and will be counting the minutes before the party is officially over.

How do you deal with birthday parties for your kids? What tips and tricks work best for you?

RELATED: Loot Bag Larceny and Other Parenting Perks

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar ElectraDaddy September 28, 2012 at 4:15 am

There are birthday parties where you get to drop off your kids? We haven’t attended any of those, yet! Most of the parties have been ones where the parents were expected to stay. My partner and I usually trade off so that he takes the twins to one and I take them to the next one.


Charmin - The Momiverse October 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Great tips, Sam!

My husband and I roshambo to see who will be the one who takes our boys to a birthday party. Of course, sometimes we both go, but it allows the other parent to run a few errands. And sometimes we each have to take one kid to a different party. Sports and birthday parties - it’s what consumes the weekend, yes?

Also, I’ve never dropped my kids off at a birthday party, but I’m surprised at how many people do this. We recently had a pool party for my boys birthdays (both in October) and I was surprised that people would even think to drop their kids off when we clearly don’t have a lifeguard on duty.
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Samantha October 16, 2012 at 2:49 am

So true, Charmin! I, too am surprised about drop-offs, particularly where there’s water involved! There have been too many accidents with kids and swimming to take any chances. To each his own, I guess. Maybe it’s a case of over-parenting by hanging around in a scenario like this but better safe than sorry.

Thanks for commenting :)
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Alexa Stewart November 7, 2012 at 11:55 am

Organizing a kid’s party is no easy job. One would have to make sure that we are organizing a party which would turn into a memorable fun filled experience for the kid. I like you tips. Thanks for sharing them with us.


Samantha November 7, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Sounds like you have some great ideas for birthday parties as well! Getting a professional to help is definitely an option for parents who don’t want to stress about the logistics and planning. Thanks for stopping by.


William Smith November 11, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Great post! Keep it up.
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Samantha November 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm



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