I am not a natural thrower of children’s parties, and neither may you be. Certainly in my experience of such jellified events, a series of mothers cluck delightedly around an amorphous mass of infancy, while their menfolk introduce themselves to one another in low voices, then attempt to burrow under the floorboards clutching a cupcake.
So researching this feature has been an eye-opener for me, and may offer all of us with The Fear some hope.
For starters, for tots aged three and under, only one or two friends is the recommended guest-list. (My wife naturally invited at least 50 people plus offspring to our daughter’s first and second birthday parties, such that our lounge turned into actual Bedlam and I disappeared to the pub. We were both in the wrong, at either ends of the scale.)
Around the age of five, a child’s guest-list begins to burgeon, and from six until 15 the sleepover is all the rage, when they expect to stay up all night. And that’s after the daytime event! But it’s OK – cool your boots. Let’s break this down.
Your child will attempt to get away with metaphorical murder, because that’s their job. Among the best parenting advice I’ve read was to offer your loved one a choice of your own devising, to make them think they’ve made their own decision.
So when they say to you, “I want to take everyone in my school to Disneyland,” you ignore that and reply: “Would you like to go bowling or have a meal at McDonalds?” (Even if you end up doing both, it’s a relative win.)
There are a few basics to bear in mind: Send out your invitations about three weeks in advance, and don’t rely on your child to do this efficiently. They will certainly give them to the wrong people. Enlist the help of a teacher or other responsible adult who knows what they are doing. Keep the party short, ideally rope in other parents to help, and consult Junior to keep them involved (bearing in mind the above).
Decorate with balloons and suchlike, keep the food simple – sarnies, cakes, crisps, jelly and ice cream, all the iffy food groups – and get outside if possible, to minimise breakages. Never use real crockery. It is perfectly acceptable to use disposable crockery at all times.
Themes are big with younger children: princesses, wizards, Doctor Who, superheroes… And make sure you plan some activities. You could employ the services of a magician if you’re loaded, or a clown if you have serial-killer tendencies, but you’d be surprised how well the old-fashioned kids’ party games – Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Blind Man’s Bluff – will go down. Try this link for heaps of ideas. And remember that the losing children will cry. Accept it and move on.
The options are endless: cinema, bowling, the zoo, computer games, DVDs… In his teens, my son asked us to book a couple of five-a-side football pitches for his mates, which was easily controlled, didn’t break the bank and was enjoyed by all.
And so to the dreaded party bag. Every mini-guest of a certain age will expect one, and the cost can mount up. One way around this is to buy in or bake some plain cupcakes or gingerbread men, which the demonic horde can decorate with icing, Smarties and hundreds and thousands, to take home in their “party bag”. The satisfaction at making their own treat will hopefully overshadow the miserly value of the gift.
Until next year…