So, you've got past the terrible two's, the troublesome three's and they are already growing up fast! But then comes one of the biggest challenges you will face as a parent: your first 'proper' party. No more will a bit of Jelly, ice cream and a few balloons knocking around do, oh no! You've got them through their first five years and they are still alive (and so are you); surely that's enough? The Parenting gods cannot ask any more from you? Oh-ho, they say: now it's time to face the minefield that is hall hire, entertainers, football parties and soft play. Welcome to the world of birthday parties.
The choices for what to do for your precious one's parties are endless, which is very much a double-edged sword; I mean, on the one hand, it's great that there's so much to choose from, right? Right?? The options are endless, so you're bound to find something your child and their guests will love. On the other hand: the choices are endless. Like, totally, this-is-way-too-much, what-the-hell-do-I-do endless. Plus the added pressure that haunts the nightmares of every parent: the fear of GETTING IT WRONG.
Yes, it can be horrifying and stressful, but by following these simple steps and with a little pre-planning, you should be able to throw a party that not only your little one, but you can enjoy too.
So how do you avoid the many party pitfalls that lay on the party ahead? Let Poppy be your guide and guru on the path of enlightenment...well, a good party, anyway.
Here are my top 7 tips on throwing that elusive animal: the perfect party!
1. Give them some choice....but not too much
Obviously it's your child's birthday and you want to do whatever will make them happy. But here's the thing; you've also got to remember that as much as they may know what they want their party to be, they don't actually know how to throw a birthday party. They don't have a yardstick to measure against and they've never been an events assistant at BAFTA, so they won't know all the answers, which means that chances are if you run every decision by them they'll either say 'yes' when what they actually mean is 'I don't know', or they'll feel a little overwhelmed and lose interest, or they will start demanding all kinds of crazy stuff. Don't be afraid to take control and trust your own judgements!
2. Cull your guest list
It's very easy to feel obliged to invite the world and his mother to a birthday party, especially if you've got a lot of extended family or you've recently moved your child to a new school and you want them to make friends. But once you've invited the whole class, plus your family, plus there could be extra siblings, you could easily end up with a guest list of 50 children. Firstly, this is a lot of children for anyone to handle, which means most entertainers will charge more for an additional person (it's really not safe to do a party of over 35 children by yourself), most bouncy castles won't be big enough so you'll have to hire two, and the catering will have to be astonomical! More importantly, trying to stop a party of children that size not descending into chaos is trying for even the most experienced party planners and the chances are you don't have a bottle of wine big enough to get over that kind of a day. You also have to remember how your child will feel here: although they probably want to be the centre of attention, if there are too many people they will more than likely start to feel very overwhelmed and won't want to join in, Try and ask your child who they want to invite from their class; if you really feel that you can't get away from inviting everyone then do, but have a separate little party for your family at home (and by party I mean some tea and cake) later on in the day or the day after. You'll have a much better time and your child will ultimately enjoy themselves a lot more too.
3. Less is more
So, it's the first big party, you've got the other parents to impress and you want your child to have the best day of their life. What do you choose from- miniature ponies, bouncy castles, entertainers, face painters, balloon modellers? Well what could be better than everything, right?
A common mistake a lot of people make when organising parties is they go for too much in the fear that what they have already won't be enough. But what will happen in reality is that you'll end up with a mess of far too much stuff and children who won't be able to focus and fully enjoy any one thing. This is especially true of parties with entertainers; I am often asked if I think it would be a good idea for the parent to hire a bouncy castle as well as an entertainer. The simple answer is no! Children can't process things as fast as adults and react pretty badly to having their senses over-stimulated; they also won't know that they're not 'supposed' to go on the bouncy castle while the entertainment is going on, or they don't need to spend the whole party queuing up to get their face painted- they will do what they want! You'll end up spending lots of money on experiences that won't be used to their full potential and you'll also end up with some pretty upset children (I've seen kids burst into tears because the face painter left before they got their face done, or they didn't get to play a game they wanted), which can seriously ruin a party. Choose one thing and build the party around it, or if you really want to go all out then split the party into different sections; have a face painter for the first half-hour, then an entertainer for an hour, then a break, then a bouncy castle. Throwing everything into the mix at the same time will just result in white noise.
4. Do the math!
Planning and running children's parties involves some pretty military-esque precision if you don't want to end up with tonnes of wastage. For a start, figure out a rough estimate of how many guests there will be, then try and order everything online as far in advance as you can (it will save you lots of money, especially if you want everything to be themed!). Get exactly the right amount of napkins, cups, plates etc (make sure you have other/extra napkins to wrap cake up in), and cater according to the guest list. I know this sounds obvious but trust me, it's so easy to get sucked into the black hole that is eBay and before you know it you've bought 73 Jungle napkins with a 3-D Lions' face on them and those straws with little pineapples on them because they were soooooo cuuuute! Avoid the temptation- just get what you need; you can always add things later if you have to! The same goes with food- it's not a three day camping trip, it's a couple of hours at a party.
Here's a great tip I self-learned whilst organising parties for little ones....are you ready for some sums??
- An average loaf of bread has 18 slices
- 2 slices makes a sandwich
- Cut into 4 smaller triangles (standard party size), this is 4 sandwiches.
Sooooo...... for every loaf of bread you buy for a party, you can make roughly 36 sandwiches for a party.
5. Stop trying to make everybody happy
We all do it....we spend so long trying to people please everyone that in the end we usually end up making things worse...at least I know I do! It's really easy to get sucked into a mentality of 'everybody MUST have a good time' when you're organising a party, especially your own child's. After all, you don't want to be the one parent who had children crying at the party, or who's food wasn't as good as so-and-so's, or who forgot to get gluten free sandwiches for little Angie and has now totally ruined everything forever and ever...
Stop. Take a deep breath. Because here's the thing: Nobody's perfect. And as much as you might be panicking over holding the best birthday party Tommy's class has ever seen, I'll let you in on a little secret.
1. So is everybody else. Whether you like it or not, there will always be an element of competition- it's human nature. And although you might think that another mum has it all sorted out because she ordered napkins made from butterfly wings and her cake was made by actual real, tiny fairies who also supply baked goods to the queen, the absolute honest truth is that she is losing her mind just as much as you. Everyone wants to be seen as a good parent, but just by having a party, you are a good parent. Whatever you are doing for a party, that makes you a good parent and everyone else is in the same boat here. So don't compare and trust in yourself that the kids are having a good time. If you can trust yourself, if you can look around and see it's going ok, then you might actually enjoy it, which means that everyone else will too! 2. If you try and make everyone happy, you will stress out. If you stress out, people will notice. Which will make you more stressed. Which will make people notice more. Which will make them uncomfortable. And there you have it- a super awkward, uncomfortable party. You have thrown a party and they have been invited. They should be happy to be there! You have been a nice person in inviting them! There you go. Better. Good.
6. Lower your expectations...of your children.
Ok, so this sounds a bit...odd. Stay with me here, because this is something I've seen time and time again and I want to try and move parents away from this as much as possible.
Picture the scenario: You've spent hundreds of pounds on the perfect party. You ordered an artisinal, home made cake which is playful as well as sophisticated with a touch of irony. Your sandwiches are so symmetrical they make grown men weep. You've artfully scattered glitter confetti all over the tables to give the illusion that you're a carefree, boho kind of person when in actual fact you've spent three hours on getting the scatter exactly right. The venue is beautiful, your little one's hand stitched pirate party outfit is gorgeous and you've been talking about this event non-stop for weeks. Then the party starts and your child is having a good time, but maybe they are a bit overwhelmed, or they need to take some time out, or they were so excited they woke up at 5am this morning and now they are genuinely exhausted. You get that amazing cake out, the candles are lit, and instead of the adoring, shining eyes you'd imagined looking up at you, you get....
Nothing. Well, they will blow the candles out, and they'll eat that cake, but the picture you built up in your head doesn't happen. I'm not saying this is all children, but what I am saying is if this is what happens, that's ok! Children never do what we expect, and that's what makes them so wonderful and funny and spontaneous. Life rarely works out how we think, but I bet that although you might not have gotten the reaction you want, they will probably be holding on to that memory for a lifetime, even if you don't realise it.
Try not to build things up in your head too much before. And try not to put too much pressure on your child; talk about the party a bit but not constantly, don't overwhelm them with details, and don't stress to them how important the day is. If you can play it cool, chances are they will have a wonderful time without feeling pressure to actually have a wonderful time, if that makes sense.
7. Wine. That is all.
As well as party entertainers, Poppy's parties also offer complete party packages starting from £550. For more information check out the website at www.poppysparties.co.uk