Throwing the perfect party
Unfortunately children don’t come with instruction manuals. If they did, there would be a whole chapter devoted to the surprisingly challenging world of kids’ birthday parties.
From deciding who to invite to choosing the right snacks, staging your child’s birthday bash can be a bit of a headache.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about it, but hopefully our guide will help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls.
When should you hold it?
On their birthday obviously, we hear you say. But what we mean is what age should your child be when you throw your first proper party? (And by ‘proper’ we mean inviting other people into your home or chosen venue to eat, drink and make judgments on your hosting abilities.)
By all means throw a party for your one-year-old, just don’t expect them to have any idea what’s going on.
At the age of two, your child will get something out of it - although attempting to stage party games is likely to end in chaos, tantrums, disinterest or maybe all three.
In our experience, the ideal two-year-old’s party is quick, simple and doesn’t go beyond laying on some food and background music and - if you are feeling ambitious - a game of pass-the-parcel. (Just make sure there is a prize in every layer though.)
At three, your child will most likely start to make their own views known about what sort of party they want and who they want to invite.
Some shyer children may not yet feel confident enough to hold their own party, and in our experience you should avoid trying to push them into something they don’t want to do.
At four and above you enter the whole world of classroom politics - see ‘who to invite.’
Where should you hold it?
Broadly, you’ve got two choices. At home, or somewhere else.
Kent has no shortage of party venues to hire - click here for some suggestions.
Advantages to hiring a venue are you may be able to effectively outsource your whole party, including entertainment and food.
The big disadvantage is cost and - in the case of under threes - finding a way to keep them entertained.
And if you hire a big venue you have the worry of whether you will get the numbers to fill it. See ‘Who to invite.’
All that said, soft play is a great option for guaranteed entertainment. Just remember though that if your child is three in January or February, some nursery friends may still be too young to clamber about. At four and over you can assume they'll all have a ball. See our soft play guide here - most offer party options.
Home is a good option if you want to keep numbers down and have a more controlled do.
The downside is you will have to lay on all the entertainment and food - and you need to be sure you are happy to put your home up to scrutiny.
Better make sure you don’t have too many empty bottles of wine sitting in the recycling pile for one thing, and to give your toilet bowl a good scrub!
Or you could be more ambitious and have a themed party. Build a Bear - with branches in Maidstone, Canterbury and Bluewater - lets your guests (unsurprisingly) build and take home a bear of their choosing.
A word of warning - you need to set a budget for these parties and decide how expensive a bear you really want your guests to build (from £10 to £24) ... and don't expect any traditional party games or food.
Who to invite, and when to do it
And this is where you hit one of those unexpected problems of parenthood - the Great Wall of Silence.
Since we first encountered the Great Wall, we have discovered this is probably the most common issue surrounding parties - and one of the most stressful.
Namely, you follow the best practice guides by giving parents ample advance notice of your party - ideally three weeks - and include a mobile number and email option for the RSVP.
And then … nothing. Far from the expected flood of replies, you get tumbleweed.
And it’s the not knowing that’s the problem - particularly if you have booked a venue where they want to know the numbers in advance. And, of course, everyone fears throwing a party where nobody turns up.
We know why it happens - lives are busy, invites get stuck in the bottom of book bags, but please - if you get a party invite, reply to it.
What to eat?
Whether you are having your party at home or at a venue, you'll need to decide what to serve your young guests.
It's a tricky balance. Plates of chips and pizza will delight the birthday boy or girl and their friends, but may earn you disapproving stares from other parents on Monday morning.
Equally, going too far the other way will result in your own personal hummus mountain at the end of your party.
We suggest playing it safe - a few bowls of healthy snacks alongside the things you know will actually get eaten. Pom Bears are a good compromise when it comes to crisps, whilst chocolate fingers somehow seem less naughty than a plate off fun-size Mars Bars.
Who to invite
Your child may well have their very firm idea of who they want to invite, which makes your job a lot easier.
If your child is at nursery, you may choose to simply invite the whole room. Ditto at school - many parents simply opt to hire a soft play centre and invite everyone along. If you child is in reception year, be careful of only selecting certain guests. Friendships can take time to build, and there is nothing worse for a child than seeing their friends going to parties that they aren't invited to.
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