How to survive a Birthday Party.
Throwing a party for your child and their friends can be traumatic if entered into blindly. But with the right preparation you can come out of it a HERO!
There’s lots to learn so fill up your party bags and hang on tight, we’re going into the terrifying realm of the children’s birthday party!
“How am I going to keep all these kids under control”?
At the preparation stage a common concern is how will you keep the children amused but still keep a modicum of control if they get over excited.
Many people, if truth be told, think that they’ll leave it up to an entertainer or just buy a sack of candy, throw it on the lawn and let the kids get on with it, hoping that there are no fatalities at the end of the day. Well, naturally the choice is yours and is only limited by your imagination and budget. Personally, my fondest memories are of playing Pass the Parcel and scoffing big bowls of trifle. However, my worst memories are of losing at Pass the Parcel and being sick after eating all the trifle.
Anyhoo, in this article I’m going to focus on setting the best conditions to help you keep control during the activities that you’ve decided to organise. These tips should be considered when either facilitating party games, playing host to a travelling petting zoo or a children’s entertainer. Please pick and choose as you see fit and please feel free to contribute your own tips below. However, a word of warning, so often I see parents take a too easy going approach to organisation, when in fact a little bit of consideration can make the day run a lot more smoothly. Kids, believe it or not, are quite complex creatures!
IMPORTANT – Child Protection Safety.
Generally speaking, whatever you choose to do, child safety should be paramount. It is best practice that at least one adult (other than you or any performers invited into your home) is always present during the party. Their are many good reasons for this, but principally this is so important from a child management point of view, as you cannot be everywhere at once. Also, remember to get contact phone numbers for all the parents whose children are at the party and ask about any allergy or medical issues that their children may have.
1. Keeping children’s attention can be very difficult and is a factor when trying to keep control of the situation. To this end try to keep gifts, toys, pets and even balloons out of reach and preferably out of sight. Now this may sound a bit extreme, but these things may draw a child’s attention away from what you want to be the main focus, be that you, an entertainer or uncle Dave in a Barney costume. These distractions can cause them to miss important details or lose focus in what you are doing. Holding the attention of very young children can be very difficult if a balloon floats by or the family pet makes an appearance (and if the balloon is tied to a family pet, then there’s absolutely no chance!).
2. Sweets! They’re great, aren’t they? The downside however is they tend to make kids a little hyperactive, quickly followed by a drop in attention. Where possible it’s better to keep sweets (and other food and drink, esp. Cola drinks) till after the show or later in the day. It’s also worth considering the choking factor also, especially if you’ve hired a bouncy castle and they’re jumping up and down with a hard sweet in their mouth. In the same vein, burst balloons should be hunted down and disposed of quickly as they also present a nasty choking hazard. As alluded to above, caffeinated drinks are also a concern, it actually mystifies me why anyone would want to get their children jacked up with this stuff and then get irritated when the children start to go crazy. Anyway, each to their own, but for an entertainer sugar crazed kids are a nightmare, they can’t stay focused long enough to follow instructions or even stand still long enough to sing Happy Birthday!
3. Reduce background noise. More often than not this is caused by parents chatting loudly nearby. Not only can this be distracting to the children it can also distract you or the performer you may have hired. It’s a bit like someone talking behind you in the cinema!
4. The great outdoors? If you wish to take the party outdoors, do so with caution. There are so many things that can disrupt your day, such as noise pollution, wasps with bad attitudes or gusts of wind blowing crisps and the magicians props off into the distance.
5. Children outside of the target audience. What amuses a 4 year old won’t necessarily cut it with the older children, which can result in some unwanted disruption. If older siblings do sit in on the party games etc. it can be helpful to explain to them beforehand who the birthday child is i.e. their younger sister, perhaps. Sometimes the sibling in this situation may be feeling ‘hard done by’ or perhaps a little envious of the attention that their younger sibling is receiving. If this is the case consider giving them the exulted role of party ‘security’, or perhaps involve them in the party planning process to give them some ownership of the day.
6. Children under 4 often have very short attention spans and can sometimes become quite disruptive during a show or planned activities. Should this be the case it’s a good idea to have a big net at hand or better still a handy grown-up to catch them! Seriously though, a small child wandering around can be easily knocked over when kids get excited, Musical Chairs can be lethal for a small toddler wandering into the fray!
7. If you’ve booked an entertainer, then I think that it’s advisable to ask them to come a half hour after all the guests have arrived. Late comers can cause quite a bit of commotion on arrival, especially if they arrive bearing gifts (this is like Kryptonite to a child’s concentration and makes life difficult for the entertainer as they try to get them re-focused on the show). Reducing interruptions during the show is extremely important as most children are easily distracted and the entertainer needs their undivided attention throughout the show. A show will consist of a beginning, middle and an end, and it is important that the children are focused throughout.
8. Choosing a venue can be tricky, if you’re doing the home thing, great, but consider damage limitation. Sponge mats are great for protecting the carpet and the knees of little ones. If you’re going the entertainer route then you’re going to have to consider the audience space. Generally speaking the smaller the audience the smaller the venue. If you have just 10 children in a large hall it can be difficult to get the right atmosphere. With this number of children a performance is better suited to a large room at home or in the smaller room of a leisure centre, if available. However, the space still needs to be big enough that the audience can all sit directly in front of the entertainer and where possible avoid seating children to the side of the performer.
9. Be heard, but save your voice! As you are already very aware, children can become incredibly loud, times that by 10+ and you might have to dig out your old straight jacket. Anyway, being heard is going to be crucial when trying to keep any amount of control. Some use the simple whistle to (sparingly) call for silence, myself, I use a small portable personal address system with a wireless microphone. These can a) save you losing your voice. b) be hooked up to an mp3 player for an instant disco and c) provide an instant karaoke system – kids love to sing, talk gibberish or just shout through a microphone (this also applies to adults funnily enough).
Ok folks, that’s all for now, I intend to update this article as the thoughts come to me, and as I’ve mentioned above please feel free to add your own advice.
Thanks for reading and I hope you have a good party and live to tell the tale!