Simplifying the birthday party

We celebrated The Bear’s fourth birthday on the weekend. As soon as I sent out the invitations to the party, I knew we were in trouble. On Saturday, we had nine children, two babies, and 14 adults in our small house. We failed miserably at creating a simple birthday party.

Here are my tips for others and rules that I plan to follow in the future:

KIDS BIRTHDAY PARTIES ARE FOR KIDS. This means no adults. Well, except for the birthday child’s parents – you’ve got to have some supervision! If you have lots of adults, the party is no longer simple. If adults (eg: grandparents) want to celebrate too, have a separate family-only dinner.

NO GIFTS. Children have enough stuff and there is really no need to for more of it. Kudos to my sister who recently organized my niece’s birthday party without gifts. The exception, I think, is gifts from the parents or close family members. Either ask for no gifts from your guests or encourage the money that would be spent on a gift to be donated. (see next point about ECHOage).

INCLUDE A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY ELEMENT. Okay, this may seem a little too goodie goodie, but a birthday party is a good opportunity to encourage children to think beyond presents and cake. There’s a great organization called ECHOage who can help. ECHOage will collect money from guests that they would have spent on a birthday present. Half of the money goes to a charity of the birthday child’s choice (eg: World Wildlife Fund) and the other half of the money is given to the birthday child so they can use it for one dream gift. Check out a video on YouTube and visit their website: http://www.echoage.com (It’s worth noting that ECHOage can be used for any kind of party – this might be a good idea to cope with Christmas gift giving too!)

NO THEMES. Themed parties are for adults, or at least older children. Young children don’t appreciate a theme, they are just happy to be celebrating their birthday. An acquaintance of mine told me about a ‘tea party’ theme for her five year old’s birthday party with just a couple of her closest friends. At first I thought it was a great idea until you start to consider what you need to buy/do in order to make it into a viable ‘theme’. Themes can lead you down a road that complicates the birthday party, not simplifies it.

BRING BACK THE BASICS. I’m talking about the basic birthday party at your house or a simple activity with a few close friends. No Chucky Cheese or face painters or caterers. Whatever happened to good old pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey? Back to Idle Parenting 101 – leave the kids alone. Kids don’t want or need expensive and organized activities. They are going to be just happy to have friends at their house to celebrate their birthday.

GET RID OF THE DOLLAR STORE GOODIE BAG. Most goodie bags are really just cheap stuff that end up in a landfill. If you must give something, follow the rules of simple giving – make it consumable or biodegradable. Alternatively, make the take-home treat an activity. The kids can do a craft that will be more memorable than anything made in China.

BRING ON THE CAKE, LOSE THE OTHER TREATS. What’s a birthday party without a cake? So, make a delicious, quality cake and forget about the other treats. The Bear desperately wanted chocolate covered strawberries at her party. MJ and I diligently melted chocolate and regrettably spent too much money on strawberries (it is February). With so much excitement, I honestly don’t know if she noticed them. The cake would have been enough.

PICK A DAY, NOT DAYS TO CELEBRATE. Why does a child’s birthday seem to go on forever? The Bear had a party on the weekend, we are taking cupcakes (store-bought!) to her preschool and we’ll celebrate as a family on her actual birthday. We should have done this once and not drawn it out. Extending the birthday makes it expensive, complicated and contributes to your child’s ego in an unhealthy way!

KEEP YOUR CHILD IN THE LOOP ABOUT THE ‘BIRTHDAY RULES’. Decide on birthday rules, communicate them to your children, and stick with them. If you go with the ‘no gift’ rule, then explain the reasoning and stick with it. There may be other ‘house’ rules such as the child always gets to pick what they are having for dinner on their birthday. My parents were always upfront with me about how much money they had to spend on my birthday present. This way I didn’t expect anything more from them. As I got older it also gave me the opportunity to add some of my own money to my ‘birthday’ money and purchase something I really wanted. Birthday rules provide children with structure and clear up expectations.

Starting now, I hope that we can set the tone about birthdays. This way, how we celebrate will become part of ‘what we do’. I hope to make birthdays a celebration that honours the special day but is also simple and not over-done.

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  1. 1 Slow Saturdays – Explaining Simplicity « Tortoise on the Loose Trackback on January 22, 2011 at 4:16 am

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