We have all been there – children running around like headless chickens, loud music, what can only be described as chaos and mums gather up their children with horror on their faces, whilst the parents of the birthday child rushes around giving out party bags so that everyone will go home!
So what’s really going on here? What are the children experiencing? Too much sensory input! They cannot cope with the noise, the lights, the moving bodies. They cannot hear the instructions being given to them in the game, and quite possibly are tired, hungry, thirsty or having a sugar rush!
Parties can be confusing, cause anxiety, they can sometimes bring out the worst in our children, who want to win everything and eat nothing but cake!
So how can you get it right? For a party to be a success – you must support the children by meeting their needs! Here are some tips, thoughts and opinions, that if taken into consideration, will ensure your child’s party is one to remember – for all the right reasons!
1. Less is more!
I know you want to invite the whole class, and your family, friends and siblings, and yes there is a risk that some people might not turn up, but parties that are heaving with children are never actually enjoyable for the birthday girl/ boy.
Always bear in mind the age of the children, what kind of party you are having, take the advice of your entertainer, and make sure you have enough space!
As a rule, the younger the children, the less children you need. Also, without putting anyone’s nose out of joint, it’s true- the more boys you have there, the more chaotic it’s going to be! So if you are having a disco for a 7 year old son, and the majority of guests are boys, consider that 20 is probably quite enough! 30 boys? You are one brave mama!
2. Get the venue right
Ah the venue! Firstly- are you sure it is big enough for the number of children you have invited, when you then take into account the fact that parents are coming too. Will it be big enough once you have decorated the tables and set up the chairs? Will it be enough space for the games or disco you have planned?
When I arrive at a venue- the first thing I do is find a good sized table, position it away from the food and kitchen. I check that there is enough space to have a large circle of children, or parachute games, and make sure that there are no chairs for parents to sit on in the ‘children’s’ play space.
Parents will sit on chairs where ever they are put, so put the parents and the chairs near the kitchen and food, with the children, games and entertainer (if you have one) in their own space.
One of the reasons that children struggle with games is that there may be too many people or distractions around them – make it easy for them to focus- these games are challenging!
3. Timing is everything
Choose your timing carefully. For weekend parties I can highly recommend 11am – 1pm for children under 5. At this time, the children are alert, able to concentrate and have not had to spend the whole day waiting! This time also means that the children might actually eat the party food at midday. Any 2 hour slot after this is good- 1-3pm, 2-4pm. But 3pm – 5pm doesn’t always run so smoothly- imagine that some party girls will get up on their birthday party day- and be ready in full Frozen attire- complete with Elsa gloves and shoes by 8am! Don’t make her wait!!!
For after school parties, be aware that the children will always be more tired, they will have less patience and struggle to focus on what is expected of them. My tips here- keep the party short- 90 minutes is ample.
Don’t lay the food out on the table unless you want the children to eat it on arrival!! Make sure there is enough space for the children to sit at a table and eat properly. Try and time it so that they are hungry. Lay out the sugary snacks after the children have eaten at least a sandwich or two!
Make sure the children have drinks – a thirsty child is not a happy one! In my experience not all children will say when they are thirsty, they may only recognise that they don’t feel good, or that something is wrong for them. At this point a child is more likely to act out- snatch a toy, become very upset when they don’t get to open a pass the parcel, more generally they will struggle to enjoy what is happening around them. So make sure they all have a drink. Especially on hot days, on hot days, have drink breaks along the way too! (this also applies to children getting hot, so keep an eye on children who have jumpers on, and give everyone time to take jumpers off, before carrying on with games)
I have attended some parties where the parents have decided not to have food, or to just sit on the floor. If you have lots of children at a 2 hour party consider that the children may get hungry or tired during this time, so food and rest are important to make the rest of the party a success. No child should be expected to play games for 2 hours straight, make sure they have time to meet their own needs, then they will be happy, and the party will be a good experience for everyone.
Also, sitting on the floor will mean that the children will be up and running around before you have finished pouring out the drinks, don’t risk it, sit them down properly!
I encourage stopping for food 1 hour into a party – (45 minutes for an after school party- they will be hungry!) make sure that more challenging games happen before food, as the children will be more focused during the first part of a party. This leaves less time after food, which is good- as you may have noticed that children seem to ‘go mad’ after eating!
Parties will always seem more chaotic after food, I don’t think this is always down to sugar intake, as I have seen children do it at holiday clubs and in schools, after eating balanced meals. It is just a natural thing that children do- they eat, then they need to move. If you have an outdoor space now might be a good time to let everyone out for 5 minutes, or better still, play games outside- I have a treasure hunt that is always done after food, and if possible outside!
5. Who is the party for?
Does your child really want the party you are planning? Do they cope ok with lots of attention, noise and people? It’s really important to be honest with yourself about this one– I know that you want to invite the whole class- but will your son or daughter enjoy it? My son hates loud noise and doesn’t enjoy the unpredicability of lots of moving children at a party. I only invite up to 20 children to his parties, because making sure he enjoys his special day is more important than inviting the whole class.
6. Contain your excitement!!
We have all done it – you are planning a party- it’s so fun, all you want to do is tell your beautiful son or daughter all about it, you want to share the joy, inspire their imagination. Tell them about all the magical things that will happen on their special day. Then two weeks before the party your child is bouncing every night, can’t sleep and up at 5am asking if it’s the day of the party yet. We live and learn – try not to build up too much anticipation. It’s good for them to know what’s going to happen, and to be involved in some way- but play it down, and you will have a calmer child.
7. Get a professional in!
Unless you are having a small tea party at home, managing a children’s party can be a little overwhelming, especially when you also want to make sure that your guests have tea and coffee and organise the food. If you are going it alone- just makes sure you have some tried and tested games, and a bit of a plan. A room full of children, balloons and music for 2 hours doesn’t ever work, you will have a riot on your hands!
If you are looking for an entertainer, chose the right one. I don’t know much about clowns, magicians, or balloon modelling. But I do know about children, and parties. I do know about games and large groups of children. I also know a lot about children’s developmental needs, I understand their emotional needs and I am aware of what triggers a party may present.
At my parties I try not to have the music too loud, it’s loud, but not so loud that the children are hiding under the tables! I make sure they can hear me, I have a microphone, but more often than not, I turn the music right down while I talk to the children, while I explain games/ rules etc. I make sure they can see me, my face, my hands, and I listen to them. I respond to any signs of distress and I include everyone. I don’t play games that get the children out all the time, and when I do, once I have children out of the game, I move quickly to finish the game, so no one is out for long. These games can be good for older more competitive groups, but little ones just want to join in, not stand on the edges for half the time because they are out.
8. Research your options
Not every child wants a full disco, there are so many choices these days,- art and craft parties are great, large cardboard structures are great to decorate, tiara making, pirate hats, eye patches, party bag decorating, there are endless choices for mini makers. Soft play and circle time songs and games are great for little ones, and princess parties with make up and glitter tattoos are great for girls. You can even get yoga parties these days!