spending

Keep Birthday Parties Grounded

These four simple tips will help keep your kids' parties on budget and under control -- and help you keep your sanity.

Regarding your column on parents who throw over-the-top birthday parties for preschoolers: excellent article. What I found most disturbing was that an adult would care about being "talked about" for having a traditional party with musical chairs.

No sooner had that column been published when I heard from another reader who forwarded me an e-mail from a mom who said she was new to the kids' party scene. "This unnecessarily stressed-out parent needs your advice," the reader wrote.

The parent in question had invited more than 30 children from two preschool classes to her 3-year-old daughter's party. She had hired entertainment, planned to serve a buffet of pizza, chicken strips, veggies and dip, and wanted to know if she needed a craft to keep the kids occupied -- someone had suggested letting them stick feathers onto contact paper.

Yikes! The mind boggles at the prospect of 30 squirming 3-year-olds sticking feathers on contact paper. And good luck getting them to form an orderly buffet line and choose politely between pizza and veggie dip.

Mom also wanted creative suggestions for goodie bags, a "seemingly essential party element." Oh, and one more thing: Her son would soon be 2, and did anyone have ideas for what to do at a party for 2-year-olds?

Here's my advice for this mother and other stressed-out parents:

  • Don't have formal parties until your children turn 5. Younger children are overwhelmed -- as are their parents -- and can't appreciate the occasion anyway. Inviting family members or a few neighborhood children for cake and ice cream is plenty.

  • Hold down the guest list. Thirty guests for a 3-year-old is about 27 too many. One rule of thumb: Invite a number of children equal to your child's age, with perhaps one to grow on.

  • Keep it simple. With a handful of guests, it's much easier to keep things under control, whether you're sticking feathers on contact paper or -- horrors -- playing musical chairs. Serve pizza or chicken, but not both.

  • Goodie bags are not an essential party element. If you do give them, take a tip from our family: We used brown paper lunch bags, decorated (with stickers and markers) by my kids. I bought lollipops and treats from the dollar store, and the kids filled the bags -- one less thing for me to do on party day.

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