Time for a Birthday Party!

Throw a bash for your child's big day. You don't have to go crazy for everyone to have fun.

By FamilyTime


When it's time for your youngster to have his first "friends" birthday party -- or even if he's had a few of these already -- remember that the number-one rule for success is that the children have fun.

This may sound elementary, but too often parents get side tracked worrying about decorations, party food, and a clean house. Guess what? Kids don't care if the food is not gourmet or the stair carpet hasn't been vacuumed.

Simple But Busy
If the weather is cooperative, plan to have a party outdoors. If not, push back the furniture in the family room or living room and make room for games.

Young children should be occupied from the minute they arrive until they leave. This does not have to be complicated but you should provide activities.

Set out a few toys to entertain the early arrivals. If partying outside, load a laundry basket with balls, jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, and similar items and let the kids create their own fun while waiting for their friends.

Another idea is to set out a simple art project that the children can start on the moment they arrive. This will keep them busy until it's time for the party games.

When everyone arrives -- and being "fashionably late" is rarely a problem with the birthday crowd -- jump right into the games.

Birthday games for young children should be cooperative rather than too competitive. Bean bag tosses, circle games, hopscotch, easy obstacle courses, and candy hunts are good activities.

The trick is to keep the kids happy and excited. If one game seems too difficult or does not catch on, don't waste time trying to make it work; move on to the next.

If the children get over excited, quiet them down by reading a very short story or involving them in an art project. Let them decorate party hats or cupcakes or work with clay or play dough.

Food and Decorations
Children look forward to the birthday cake and the ice cream. If you give an afternoon party, this may be all the food you need.

If the party is for lunch or supper, keep the food very easy. Pizza, chicken fingers, hot dogs, or small sandwiches are acceptable. Put some raw carrots and celery sticks on the table to augment the chips or pretzels.

Not all parents are comfortable serving soda. Make lemonade or serve fruit juice instead (these are sugary, too, so pour small cups only). Have some cold water on hand.

If you bake the cake yourself, buy pre-made decorations at the supermarket. Your child will be thrilled and unless you are an expert cake decorator, you will save yourself a headache.

Decorate with crepe paper streamers and colorful banners. Remember that balloons are choking hazards, so use them wisely. Mylar balloons are safer and a bright bunch is a friendly decoration. This is really all you need: festive, colorful touches to signify the party. Don't go crazy!

Keep it Short
Be realistic about the duration of the party. There's a reason children's parties have a beginning and end to them. Parents know to pick up their offspring on time!

For pre-schoolers and first- and second-graders, a two-hour party is just fine. For older kids, you might want to extend it to three hours.

Many experts say that for children under eight, the number of guests should equal the age of the child - plus one. This is up to you, but handling 15 or 16 children is a lot more chaotic than entertaining six or seven.

Get Some Help
You cannot be in two places at once and with a houseful of youngsters, you will have to be present at all times. Young children need help with the bathroom -- and they can't be left alone while you tend to the birthday cake.

Make sure your spouse, mother, sister or brother, or neighbor can help. A parent may offer to stay and unless you already are fully "staffed," take her up on the offer. (For parties for very young kids, expect the parents to stay.)

Hire a local teenager to help with the party. They often have the right energy for engaging the children in games.

Finally, relax and enjoy the children. Watch the smile on your child's face. If you are having a good time, your birthday boy or girl will, too.