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No-Fail Tips for Planning the Perfect Party

Over the past 13 years, with five children of various ages, I have organized a total of 45 birthday parties. We have had many fun, inexpensive, in-home birthday parties customized for the birthday child’s desired theme. Involving the birthday child also gives them a valuable appreciation for the effort required to host a party.

Here are some tips for hosting a home birthday party:

  • Ask for help. You can always use an extra pair of adult hands. Also, round up your older kids to create the online invitation, shop for the supplies, and help prepare the food, decorations, and treat bags. Your kids can also serve refreshments and help out with the games planned.

  • Keep a bucket of warm soapy water and a cloth handy for spills, throw up, and potty accidents. 

  • Serve tiny portions of food and slivers of cake. Children are often too excited to eat.

  • Serve lots of drinks, but in small portions. Children are always more thirsty than hungry. 

  • Parties for children ages one to three are really 
for the parents who love to chat while keeping 
 careful eyes open for their little sweeties, so have some adult refreshments on hand.

Parties for children ages four and up begin to learn social graces: How to accept unwanted presents, how to share, and how to take turns at games. As a hostess(e), help the kids with these skills if their parents are not staying for the party.

  • It’s the certainty of treat bags that counts, not the quantity. One toy and one candy in each treat bag is adequate.

  • Length of party: One hour for kids under two years of age; two hours for kids under five years of age; and three hours for kids under 10 years of age.

  • Don’t clean before the party! No one will notice. • Remove all breakables and provide unstructured group toys for children under the age of four. You could also set up stations with paper and markers and crayons, paint, or play dough and have little groups of children work at one station for 15 minutes, and then switch to another station. Have an adult sit at each station so one of the guests doesn’t color your walls while you are busy serving the birthday cake.

  • Save your baby gates to partition off bedrooms, halls, and other off-limits places.
• Encourage the kids to watch the cake and gift opening, but don’t force them to. A great way to decide whose gift to open first is to use the months of guests’ birthdays. January birthday guests go first, then February, etc. For cake serving, start with December birthday guests and
go backwards.

Five commandments for party guests:

1. Don’t bring extra siblings or children unless permission is granted by the hostess(e) beforehand.

2. Warn your child that a treat bag may or may not appear.

3. RSVP on or before the deadline. Nothing is more frustrating to the party organizer than having to try and get a hold of people who didn’t RSVP. If you say that you are coming to the party, please show up! If you say that you’re not coming to the party, don’t show up unannounced at the last minute!

4. Be cheerful and participate in all of the activities in the spirit of the party.

5. If you are an adult staying with your child, be helpful. This is not the time for a heart-to-heart chat with the party hostess(e). Save that for after the party.

Five commandments for the party hostess(e):

  • Don’t ask for the gift receipt so you can return the gift. Offer a sincere “thank-you” and if the gift is not suitable for your child, give it to a sibling, donate it to charity, or try to return it without a receipt. 

  • Disclose full information about the party. If the party is half at home and half somewhere else, the parents need to know where their children are going, who is supervising, who is driving, how many seat belts are available, and if and what guests are required to bring to the party. 

  • Don’t state preferred presents or money. It’s okay to mention desirables, if specifically asked. 

  • Try to avoid competitive games. Cooperative games are more fun for all the guests and build friendships. Piñatas can encourage aggressive behavior. 

  • Encourage your child to write thank-you notes for the parents who were not present at the party. It’s good practice and a nice touch. 

Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE, teaches parenting courses at the U of C - Continuing Education, and has taught for Chinook Learning, Families Matter, and Alberta Health Services for many years. Judy is the author of the international print bestseller, Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery, and the newly-released Parenting With Patience: Turn frustration into connection with 3 easy steps. For more information, contact 403-714-6766 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and to join the list for monthly notification of her free parenting webinars, proudly sponsored by Calgary’s Child Magazine, visit


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