Planning your Child's Birthday Party

Your ten step guide to hassle free party planning

For some parents, birthday parties are like any other party and half the fun is in the planning. For the rest of us, party planning seems like just another challenge on road to parenting success. Who do you invite, girls or boys only, every child they’ve ever met or only a select few? There is no right or wrong answer and if your child is old enough to have a say in the decision, then by all means, include them in the process. After all, it is their birthday party.

Other considerations are budget. You only have to turn on the television to see the pots of money being lavished on celeb style little people parties to be left feeling either broke or not quite generous enough. Funds should not be a barrier to putting together a fantastic party where everyone has fun and you can sit back feeling proud or relieved that it is all done and dusted.

The key point to remember is that as long as your child is made to feel special on the day, that is all that really matters. A small party with a handful of close friends can be just as successful as a more elaborate event.

Planning ahead no matter how big or small, will ensure that your event has the best chance of going off without a hitch. Start planning and getting ideas together well I advance and you will remain calm and in control with have plenty of time get it all arranged.

If you are going to book a venue, it can help to start making enquiries as early as you can. Many popular venues such as soft play and entertainment centres get booked out well in advance. Work backwards from the big day, setting yourself some tasks to do each week so that it does not leave you feeling overwhelmed at the last minute.

Remember that planning doesn’t end with the arrangements in the lead up to the big day. Having a structured plan for the party will help to ensure that the even flows and children are kept entertained and engaged until it is time to go home.

Tip: If your child has a best friend, it is worth checking ahead with the parents to ensure they are available as this can have a negative impact on your child if a close friend is unable to attend.

Step 1

Timing is everything

If your child has a birthday that falls close to a major holiday such as Christmas, Easter or even over the summer holiday’s when many children may be away on family breaks, it is worth considering the best time to have your child’s party. A party needn’t be in the same week or month as your child’s actual birthday.

Equally, it is important to ensure that the time of day you pick is appropriate for your child’s age. A late afternoon party for a 3 year old may be creating a situation where the children attending are too tired to take part or become difficult to handle as they are used to being at home, getting ready for tea and bath time. It can be useful to reflect back on your own experience as a parent and consider times of day that would be most appropriate for activities and food.

Step 2

Picking a theme

A party theme can be a great way of adding some fun and excitement to a party invitation, helping to build the anticipation, particularly for younger children. Once you have chosen a theme, ensure that you carry that theme through as many aspects of the party as possible. This could include invitations, a request for dress-up, the décor, cake, activities, games and party bags. The limit really is your imagination and if you plan ahead, you could come up with some pretty creative ideas regardless of budget. Children are imaginative and will play happily with whatever scenario is provided, consider things from your child’s perspective such as age, likes, dislikes and plan your theme accordingly.

Step 3

Short and sweet

Successful children’s parties are not too long, ideally a couple of hours. Plan activities, cake cutting, food and games to fit within an age appropriate timeframe. Tip: If your child attends nursery or school, speak to the teachers and other parents to find out what activities and games are currently in favour, this can help when planning your prizes, games and activities if appropriate.

Tip: If your child attends nursery or school, speak to the teachers and other parents to find out what activities and games are currently in favour, this can help when planning your prizes, games and activities if appropriate.

Step 4

Who to invite?

This is very much down to personal choice. You may decide that your child has a wide range of friend, including boys and girls and you feel it would be unfair to exclude any particular children while your child is still young and establishing new friendships. On the other hand, if your child is more reserved and has indicated a preference for a certain friend or friends, then limit the invitations accordingly.

Other parents will appreciate notice so that they do not have to change plans at the last minute to accommodate a party that very weekend. It can also be useful to consider young children who may have siblings close in age, would you be happy for parents to have a baby with them at the party or other sibling if childcare issues mean that your child’s friend would not attend? Remain as flexible as possible, simply ask parents to advise you in advance if there are any issues such as siblings or other commitments that you can help to resolve to give them the best chance of being able to attend.

What about ‘party politics’? If you’re inviting a large proportion of your child’s class, consider the impact on the remaining few who are not invited. Would this cause more harm in the long term than for the duration of the party? Has your child fallen out with a child who is attending, what can be done to improve relationships ahead of the big day so that everyone is happy?

Step 5

Age appropriate activities

A three year old will have very different ideas to that of a six year old for example, around what is fun and how long they are prepared to give their attention to any particular activity. An older child may be more inclined to want group activities and games that require more thought and go on for longer in comparison to a toddler who is happy chasing bubbles and singing songs. You may wish to include some games and some entertainment such as face painting or similar so that if some children are less interested in one activity, they may find another more or less stimulating activity more enticing.

Tip: You may also wish to ask friends or family members to help out on the day, taking the pressure off you so that you can ensure everything is going according to plan.

Step 6

Keep it simple

Food and activities needn’t be over the top or too excessive. Over stimulating children with too many activities crammed into their party time will only end in tears or tantrums and likewise, too much sugary food is likely to increase the risk of party chaos.

If you need to keep younger children busy while cutting the cake or dishing up plates of tasty treats, it can be an idea to keep everyone busy by providing paper table clothes and little pots of crayons to keep them occupied momentarily.

A balanced mix of health snack options alongside some party favourites will ensure that there is something for everyone. You may wish to do the cake cutting and provide your little guests with a party bag containing a slice given to them as they leave at the end. Younger children may prefer cupcakes over a slice of cake as they’re easier to handle and quicker to hand out.

Step 7

Birthday gifts

Will your child open gifts at the party or after the event? You may wish to consider there points when making your decision. How old is your child and how many children are in attendance. Larger events may be more conducive to gifts being set aside to be opened at home in a more controlled environment where you are able to make a note of who has given which gift. Smaller parties where your child only has a handful of friends attending may wish to open gifts during the party, allowing their friends to share in their excitement.

Keep a note of the gifts your child has received and send a thank you card to each child, thanking them for attending the party and specifying the gift your child received from them.

If you have an older child who has fewer children attending the party, it can be nice way to end the day by opening the gifts and personally thanking each child for their lovely gift.

Tip: If you have a large number of children attending a party, you may wish to ask a friend or family member to be in charge of receiving gifts at the door, stating that the gifts will be opened at home, noting down any names where no cards are given so that you can thank each child in turn.

Step 8

Parent power

If your child is regularly invited to parties you will know first-hand that if they’re not yet old enough to be dropped off and picked up later, or the distance means it’s not worth leaving, you will know the feeling of ‘oh no not another party’. If you’ve become friendly with some of the parents who have children attending, you may wish to ask them to give a hand on the day so that they feel included rather than simply floating around waiting for the day to be over. Alternatively, some parents are holding parties where the parents are catered for too, this may help to encourage party-pooped parents to come along and enjoy another children’s birthday party if they feel there’s something in it for them too!

Step 9

Party bags

As already discussed, a good bag can be a great way of sharing out birthday cake or cupcakes, allowing parents some control over the amount of party food consumed in one go. Goody bags are a popular way of thanking your little guests for attending, giving them something to look forward to when they get home and in many cases with younger children; they provide a good distraction when the time comes for the party to end.

Goody bags can be elaborate or simply contain a thank you, piece of cake or a couple of sweets or small toys. These can be given out to guests at the door as they leave and can act as a prompt reminding parents and children that the party is drawing to a close.

Step 10

Thank you

Many parents will be delighted to receive a phone call or thank you card in addition to the one your child has sent to their child. This can be an ideal opportunity to build on friendships and to show parents that you appreciate the time they’ve taken and the money they’ve spent on your child’s special day.

Tip: If you are having a larger party for your child and you don’t have close friends or family to call on for help, consider hiring some additional childcare help on the day. Search the list of babysitters available on and get in touch to discuss your requirements.

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