Okay, I know it's the holiday season, but my mind goes to birthdays because my granddaughter's birthday is Christmas Day. While I was raising her, we celebrated her birthday first thing in the morning with a fruited coffee cake or a shortcake for breakfast, complete with candles and singing. We weren't celebrating Christmas at that time and had already done our Solstice celbration, so it was just her birthday ... until we went to visit other relatives who did have Christmas. Most of her friends couldn't or wouldn't come to a party during the holiday break, so I started giving her a half-birthday party in the summer. For children with winter birthday near the holidays, this is a great option. They are usually a little overwhelmed with gifts or sometimes feel cheated. Even my son, whose birthday is in early February, often felt a little cheated around his birthday. Everyone is burnt out from the holidays, and the stores are often sold out of the "cooler" gifts, having cleared their shelves for inventory. He loved his summer party!
In the summer, you can do your party outdoors, even at a beach or park. That's often a better option than cramming a dozen or more kids, especiually high-strung active boys, into your house. It's also easier to keep them occupied - they will actually occupy themselves easily. When you're indoors, you have to come up with a plan. I remember deciding to do a piñata for one of my son's birthday parties, not taking into consideration that I would have a crowd of stir-crazy kids. I thought they were going to wreck my house swinging that pole around. Luckily it had a happy ending with my stereo intact, but you get the idea.
For a few years, I worked as a party planner for kids parties. It was a lot of fun. I met with them and asked for a theme then created activities around that theme. The cake was up to the parents, but everything else was mine to determine. One girl wanted a beading party, so each of her guest made an item of jewelry to take home. Another girl wanted a circus theme. The decorations were easy, and we did face painting, I set up a balance beam for a tightwire walk and had other fun circus related activities. I've done dinosaurs, fairies, outer space and more. I'd had a lot of experience with my own kids who always challenged my creativity, so I was ready for that job.
If you don't have a party planner, the job can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. Try to keep it simple. Choose a few simple games, keeping in mind the ages and temperments of the kids attending. An indoor piñata might not be the best choice for a group of rowdy kids (lol). Choose at least one quiet sit-down game too, to reengage the focus after an energetic activity. Some simple ideas are having them color their own solid color paper placemat before sitting down to eat, or having a bowl of jokes for them to pick and read aloud. Depending on the age and number of party-goers, a new and fun board game could be an option. Madlibs are always a hit, and they have a variety of themes. With the very young, music and art are good options. They may not stay entertained for long, but they will be drawn in for a little while. Toddlers can do playdough or fingerpaint with pudding on a large plastic mat on the floor or at a table. A shower curtain works great for this and can be picked up at a Dollar Store. I used to just hose it off and save it for the next time.
So what do you do about your space? I always suggest putting away any toys that your child feels protective of, no matter what age they are. You can't always reason with them, and a birthday party is not the time to teach that lesson. You can make it easier on everyone by thinking ahead and removing potential threats. Also, remember that not every child attending knows your house and your rules. Once again, think ahead and childproof your house for a party. Do you have pets? Some children may be frightened or may be too rough. Think ahead and have a safe place for your pet. Also, if you have an entertainer come to your house, set them up in a room cleared of distractions. As a performer who works birthday parties, I know there's nothing harder than trying engage a group of kids where there are toys available. Do your performer a favor and leave the toys for before and after the show.
Now, what do you do if your child has been invited to someone's party? Always ask if you are expected or encouraged to attend with your child. This may not be applicable to older kids, but the host might actually appreciate your help, especially if they are already your friend. If they're not, what better way to get to know them than offering to help out. Don't be offended if they refuse. They may already have the help they need, and you might be in the way. If you are asked to stay, be helpful but not invasive. Your child is someone lese's home with their set of rules. You are there to help, not to interfere.
Be sure to talk to your child ahead of time about your expectations for their behavior, though most kids are better behaved when we're not around them. Do they have food allergies or other food restrictions? If so, be sure to let the host know well ahead of time. They are already doing an enormous amount of planning. It's not fair to spring that on them and not fair to put your child in a position of having to refuse something. It makes them stand out - not necessarily what they want. My daughter was not allowed sugar when she was young. We just didn't have it in the house, and neither did our friends at the time. When she started kindergarten, she was invited to a friend's house for a playdate. She came home in tears because she was offered kool-aid and cookies and thought she had to refuse because of the sugar restriction. It never occured to me that she would not accept it when offered by someone else. I quickly assured her that the rules were for our household, and when she was at a friend's house, she could choose for herself. If she'd had an allergy, that would be different, but it was just a decision I had made as a parent. I decided that it was okay for her to eat differently once in a while.
I think that two of the most important qualities of good parenting are flexibility and creativity. We want our children to learn to make rational decisions, but we also want them to grow to be productive kind and thoughtful adults. We need to know when to stand our ground and when to back off and let them blunder. We need to think quick on our feet and be willing to compromise. Birthday parties are no exception to this, whether we are throwing the party or attending. They are supposed to be fun for everyone, including the parents, so enjoy yourself!