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Why are Birthday Parties so Stressful

Too many kids, too long, too much activity...TOO MUCH! While we want for our little ones to enjoy the experience, things can sometimes get out of control. As with most parenting ventures, we always need to start with a plan.

Every family has their own ideas about what a child’s birthday party should be. Some parents choose to have a company host the party. That takes a lot of stress out of the planning, but there are still things to keep in mind. Gail and I share the following tips which are helpful whether you are stepping out or celebrating at home.

1. If your child is less than 6 years old, keep the party to a maximum of 2 hours. When parties are really long, children can get overwhelmed and maintaining their best behaviour gets tough when exhaustion sets in.

2. Have realistic expectations for the children’s’ level of development. We can’t expect 2 year olds to play interactively because developmentally, most of them are still in the parallel play stage. Take those issues into account when planning activities and duration.

3. Make a plan – why are preschools and classrooms calm? The teachers know what they are going to do before it happens and the children have a sense of that as well. The ability to predict what will happen helps all of us to feel more comfortable – we set our children up for success. Games or activities need to have a balance between quiet activities and those that burn off energy.

4. Keep food simple and easy because the children are often too excited to eat most of it anyway. Familiar foods seem to go down better with young children.

5. Have a set of guidelines regarding what the children can do and where they are allowed to play. While presenting this information at the start of a party might seem like a downer, it can alleviate a great deal of chaos later on. With extra energy due to a bundle of children and cake and ice cream, setting clear limits gets everyone off on the right foot. When expectations are stated clearly (whether in your home or at another location), everyone has an understanding of how things will work – it’s that sense of predictability again.

6. Lastly – gifts: some families plan the gift opening for after everyone has left. This eliminates boredom for those watching the process as well as impolite comments about certain gifts. If you are tired of throwing out tiny loot bag treats or worse – stepping on them with bare feet; create a pact with your friends to make a donation with the loot bag $$ or at least choose something useful to send home – a craft kit, an inexpensive puzzle or something that will have a purpose in it’s new home.

Julie Freedman Smith and Gail Bell are the founders of Parenting Power. They provide parents with strategies to become confident, capable and calm. Contact them at or 281.2524

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