Before you had children, you no doubt assumed it was impossible to wake up with a crushing hangover after hosting a party at which you didn’t drink at all.
Hosting a toddlers’ birthday party, however, can be the kind of emotional roller coaster that leaves you slumped on the couch, shoving leftover cake into your face and weeping silently by 730pm.
The next day, you might not only feel awful, you might start reevaluating your choices. After my
daughter’s birthday, this year my wife and I made an entry into our calendars, in capital letters, for 11 months from now – NO BIRTHDAY PARTY.
And she’s our second child, so we really have no excuse for making the kind of stupid mistakes we’ve made before, like ticking the box that said “Ice Cream Cake”, letting her decide how many people she should be allowed to invite and where the party should be.
Absolute amateur hour. “Excess sugar and kids at birthday parties do not mix” should be the first thing they teach you as a prospective parent, and yet, for some reason, birthday celebrations are the only time we actually let them eat things like chocolate crackles.
And then, at party’s end, each child is sent home with a little bag of disasters waiting to happen – aka more sugary lollies. Why would parents do that to each other? Schadenfreude? Tradition?
It seems unlikely when you consider that modern helicopter parenting has taken all the fun out of traditional party games. I can count on no fingers at all how many kids’ parties I’ve been to where they still play Musical Chairs – no one will dare, because it’s a contest in which nearly all the kids have to lose.
And don’t get me started on Pass the Parcel, which used to be fun when I was a kid – and there was only one prize, right in the middle – but is now structured so that every layer has a toy or a gift in it, again, so that no kid ever has to lose, or miss out.
So, staying away from those games at your toddler’s party is good advice for a start, but here are our Six Obvious and Dangerous Mistakes Not to Make at Your Toddler’s Party.
Thou shalt not attempt to outspend or outdo, other parents
At the very first toddlers’ party, I went to with my son, the parents had hired an actor in a Superman outfit to entertain the children. Truly, not even watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice made me feel so sorry for a superhero.
Not only would it have cost a lot of money to pay a grown man to go through that kind of suffering, but it was clearly such a waste of cash as the kids were clearly too small to really understand what was going on. Sure, they might have been fooled into thinking he was the real Superman, but they didn’t care, they just wanted to pull his hair and jump on his back, all at once.
I’ve been to other similarly overpriced and overthought parties, with ponies and fairies and teepees and hired bouncy castles filling back yards. None of them have been what you’d call raging successes (okay, I’ll grant you the one where the parents hired a fire truck driven by a magician was a winner – sadly I’m not even making that up).
You just don’t need to make it a full Broadway production when your child is still too young to know what Broadway is (and arguably, you don’t ever really need to).
Just remember KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Children are actually incredibly easy to impress, without too many bells and whistles. Save your money for therapy.
A Piñata is a hospital visit waiting to happen
No, you really wouldn’t think parents of small children would be that stupid, but you’d be wrong. Kids love piñatas, obviously, as they combine hitting things with an explosion of lollies, but they are a bad, bad idea.
You sense this immediately, generally just after you’ve hung your first one from a tree and watched as the first child lines up to swing a baseball bat it, followed by half a dozen other fearless and overexcited kids, all trying to get their heads right in his backswing.
If they survive that part, the feeding frenzy that occurs when the lollies spill out could easily see children losing fingers, or eyes. It’s just ugly, all of it. Not recommended for (small) children.
Do not add sugar
The other piñata problem is those lollies, of course. It is beyond human reckoning how fast kids can pick up sweets, even in rough terrain, and once they’ve got them in their sticky little hands, woe betide anyone who dares to take them back.
Just generally, though, too much sugar and large groups of toddlers equal a tornado of tears and tantrums. Too much of a good thing really is a danger for small kids, and once the amount of sugar in their bodies hits a certain peak they can go off like spinning tops, or, just as fast, collapse into emotional explosions.
Yes, you have to have cake, but keep it to less than three pieces each, and avoid too much food colouring – and red cordial, and chocolate crackles (although they sure are tasty), and fairy bread.
A little goes a long way.
Don’t ask them what they want – or if you do, don’t listen
This might sound harsh, but if you ask a small child what they’d like to do for their birthday party, you’re going to get some fairly outrageous answers. And if you’re the kind of parent who still thinks you have to make all their dreams come true, you’re going to be on a hiding to nothing.
It is far better to give them a few select and sensible options to choose from. Otherwise, you will be hiring a bouncy castle and a clown and a unicorn.
The other problem is that they often think they’ll enjoy something – pony rides around your back yard for example – and then when the day arrives they realise they’re terrified of horses, or they don’t like the smell or the manure, and it can all go pear-shaped in a very expensive fashion.
You are the parent. Be the parent, be the boss. And be reasonable.
Control the guest list
In the case of a toddler, particularly one who’s attending child care, the answer to the unwise question: “Who would you like to invite to your birthday party?” is obviously going to be “EVERYONE!”
As your children get older, you may even stumble into awkward and frankly weird situations around the kindergarten stage where some parents suggest that it is unkind or inappropriate to have a party without inviting every single child in the class. No, no and no again.
I’m not sure what the maximum number of children that’s acceptable to host for a toddlers’ party is, but it’s not 30. The more children, the more your day may quickly slip out of control, and consider that, at this age, each child will come with at least one parent, so be sure to think about your catering and the size of your venue.
There is also the issue of which kids you want to have around your house. No doubt you’ve already noticed that not all children are created equal, and the ones who tend to smash things or climb things or bully other kids are the ones you want to keep off the invite list, at any cost.
Think of yourself as a bouncer for your own child’s party.
Be wary of the volcano warnings
Yes, obviously, kids’ parties are mainly lots of fun – particularly for the kids – and as much as 90 per cent of your whole day might be a blast. But the fact is a crash, often accompanied by a volcanic outburst, is coming, particularly from the birthday boy or girl.
The simple fact is that too much stimulation and excitement, too many gifts, too much attention and too much sugar are a recipe that’s going to combine into an emotional maelstrom.
It might be brief if you’re lucky, or it might be catastrophic. Some years, with luck, it might not come at all, but it is merely wise to be prepared.