Birthday Parties 101
You want to create a memorable day, but after you've vacuumed the last of the confetti out of the carpet, what will your child and his friends remember? The fun, of course! Good planning and a sense of humor are all you need for a successful party, so start by getting organized and in a party mood. Click here to print a planning checklist.
Involve Your Child
The only thing more satisfying than a party in her honor is the sense of pride she'll feel when she helps plan it. Depending on your child's age (preschoolers will love choosing decoration colors while older kids can assemble favors), involve her in the process as much as possible.
Choose a Theme
Discuss possibilities with your child and make the best choices for his age and interests. Looking for ideas? Check out our roundup of favorite theme parties.
Set the Location, Date, and Time
You have to weigh several options when choosing where to host your party — budget, timeframe, space, etc. — but if you decide to hire an entertainer or plan a destination party, check availability before you set a date and time.
Make the Guest List
As a rule, invite as many guests as your child's age plus one or two. However, if you absolutely must invite more kids, stock up on grownup helpers (one for every three to four kids). While it's admirable to include your child's entire class, it can be a recipe for anarchy. Consider planning a separate event for different groups of friends to avoid leaving anyone out.
Select and Send Invitations
Whether you buy or make the invitations, send them out about two to three weeks before the party. Be sure to include the following information: your child's name, the date and time of the party, location and address, directions (if necessary), party theme, invitation list, any special instructions for dress or things to bring, your phone number, and RSVP info.
Design the Menu
Even if you're not serving a meal, try to balance sweet foods with healthy snacks like air-popped popcorn and carrot sticks. But don't force guests to stomach lima beans either. Familiar protein foods — hot dogs, pizza, and simple sandwiches — are satisfying without sending sugar levels into the stratosphere. Your guests' parents will probably let you know if their kids have any medical conditions or allergies, but when they call to RSVP, ask them.
Choose Decorations and Favors
The amount of time and money you put into the decorations is a personal decision. Most parents will tell you that kids don't notice them, but if you're the kind of decorator that won't be satisfied unless the blowers are the exact shade of blue as the tablecloth, keep shopping for what you need. It's your party too!
Don't try to direct the party alone. If you don't have friends, family, or guest's parents available to help you chaperone, serve, and clean up, ask your neighborhood babysitter to pitch in — it will be well worth the few dollars it will cost you. Make sure to include some grownup beverages and food in your menu.
Create a Party Itinerary
Well before your party, make a schedule for the event. This will keep everyone entertained and the party moving along. But be flexible with the itinerary and don't force kids to leave an activity they're enjoying.
Set the Party Mood
If time is tight, concentrate on what you need for the kids' enjoyment rather than the positioning of the balloons. You know the party morning will be crazy, so consider a few timesavers like choosing clothing and showering the night before. Take the time to introduce party guests to one another, or, better yet, guide your child to do so. Designate one of your grownup helpers the event photographer and ask him to snap shots of every guest and major moment. This way you and your child can relive the highlights for many years to come.