Another weekend and another birthday party. Birthday parties are the business, quite literally. There is nothing better than seeing a child’s face light up as you arrive. Especially if, as today, you arrive with a balloon column taller than the birthday child topped with a Happy Birthday balloon!
I have become a regular attendee of children’s birthday parties as an entertainer and a parent too and from these memories of children’s birthday parties as a participant, a parent and an entertainer I have learned a few things that have surprised me but I think would be useful for parents in particular to know. I’d like to share these with you as you head into organising your parties and children’s events.
1. Children don’t eat party food.
Let’s get this one out of the way from the get go. Oh, children like party food, they love it. Left to their own devices they will pile high their plates with it. This does not however translate into the eating of the food. I have lost track of how many parents I have seen negotiating with their children, “Eat one more sandwich before going back to play.”
It is not that the children do not want to eat or are not hungry, (how often do you drive a child home from a party only to hear a cry of “Can we get some drive thru?” or the like from the back seat!); it is that there is so much else going on to distract them and emotions are running high, food takes a back seat. With this last point in mind, we move on to…
2. There will be tears before bedtime, this is normal.
Emotions are running high, there is laughter, shouting, noise (so much noise!) and on the flip side to this there will be tears as all this emotion twists around on its head. This is not your fault, nor is it anyone else’s, nor will it (and this is important to remember) affect anyone’s overall enjoyment of the day.
It will not take much to change happiness to tears, but the good news is the opposite is also true, and the part the children will remember is the fun. Even the birthday child won’t remember bawling their eyes out because of the lack of chocolate fingers, they will remember the balloon dog/giraffe/butterfly with the spots they were handed to cheer them up.
3. Boys and Girls will happily play together.
There is no gender divide or glass ceiling as far as children’s games are concerned. Unless you artificially set up a boys verses girls division, they will cheerfully play the same games on the same teams to the same ends, especially at primary school age. The greater issue for most children is actually age, getting older/younger siblings or their peers to play together (certainly without squabbling) is the difficult part. Schools, which do so much to avoid gender division, unfortunately inadvertently reinforced the age divide.
The temptation as a parent is to provide different activities for the different age groups, whereas the best appoach is to provide activites that can appeal to all ages at the same time. A good games leader can do this, or a show or entertainment of some description; some entertainments (such as bouncy castles) can be risky for mixed age children and can result in more incidents of point 2.
4. Kids are Peacocks at the beginning and pigs at the end.
Girls, and boys, love getting dressed up for parties. Floral frocks, loud shirt, leggings, jeggings and jeans, oh my! They love turning up dressed in their finerey at the beggings, it’s like a minature red carpet, get your photos in now. Because without a doubt children do not have the concentration or self control to maintain The Look. When they come to pick them up at the end though, parents might wonder why you provided a hedge through which to drag their highly polished and preened children, backwards. There is no way in my experience of avoiding the odd ripped slip and chocolate stains, just embrace it. Kids will be kids.
5. Parents can enjoy it too.
Children need to be engaged in activities to get something out of them. The same is true of the parents. Parents shouldn’t be excluded from sharing in their children’s enjoyment by being put to sit at the sides or away from what is happening. Being segregated to talk amongst themselves is a little patronising don’t you think? I would be frowned upon if we did it to the children yet we will cheerfully do it to the grownups. By being with the children, and taking part they can enjoy birthday party activities just as much and it helps to enhance the kids enjoyment too. (There’s an old saying about who a boy’s best friend is, afterall.)
So there you have five points that I hope will be of interest to parents planning their children’s birthday party. Some things to bear in mind which I include because quite a few of them are counterintuative. Hopefully my experience will lead to a better experience for your children.