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Children's Birthday Party Planning Basics and Advice

Updated on July 18, 2012

Birthday parties for children are a rite of passage. It’s a celebration for parents that their child is in their lives and it’s a way for kids to hang out with friends and be the center of attention. They are also just pretty darn fun. It’s important to have them and it’s important to be invited to them. But many parents are often lost when it comes to planning them; it seems everything these days is much more complicated. Planning a child’s birthday party though isn’t that difficult.

Having a wonderful and memorable birthday party does not need to cost a lot of money. You can keep it simple. The number one goal is for the child to have fun. That is why the first thing a parent must do is choose a theme. The theme should center on the child’s interests. More general themes can cost less money than specific theme. If your child likes Bob the Builder, for example, go with construction as the main theme. When you purchase items, you won’t be paying for the licensing costs of the official image. Plus, the most timeless the theme, the better the pictures look down the road.

Don’t feel stuck on having a character-type of theme either. If your daughter’s favorite color is purple, make the party all about purple. If your son loves blocks, make the party about shapes. Thinking out of the box can give you a truly unique birthday party.


Once you have your theme you must then pick a venue.  To save money, people will frequently have the party at their house.  This is a good idea, if you are up for the task of the extra work.  However, even if you don’t mind not enjoying your child’s party (it really is for them and not you), keep in mind that home parties will sometimes end up costing more than a party at an outside venue.  If you can, choose a venue that matches the theme or choose the theme around the venue.  Parents might not think kids don’t notice the tiny details, but they do, even if they don’t express it.  

Next, decide on the guest list.  There is an old “rule” that states the number of guests should be the age the child is turning, plus one.  If you choose to stick to that rule, that’s fine.  However, when that rule was put into place, kids weren’t so scheduled.  They didn’t have school friends, day care friends, sport friends, church friends, neighborhood friends, etc.  Allow your child to invite however many friends your child would like that fit into your budget.  

When it comes to sending out the invitations, make sure they match the theme.  Additionally, invitations should go out 2 – 3 weeks prior to the party so that everyone has time to work it into their busy schedules and  put it on their calendar.  The invitations are going to be what sets the tone of your child’s birthday party.  While a fun and unique birthday party invitation is ideal, what is more important is the information on the birthday party invitation.  

Put ALL the information on the invitation.  There is a trend among some parents to leave off some information so that parents have to call (since some people don’t seem to understand what RSVP means).  This is not a good idea.  It means many will toss the invitation out from the get-go, only hurting YOUR child.  And for others, it means twice the work—one to get the information and then again to RSVP.  Knowing whether or not a child can attend isn’t something all parents know offhand.  

Instead, make it clear what it is you want and need, and make it easy for parents to RSVP.  Information on the invitation should include: the day, date, and time of the party, who the party is for, where the party is at, the beginning and ending time of the party, if any food will be served and what food, what date to RSVP by and a phone number and email for the RSVP.

The trick to getting more RSVPs in is to give both a phone number for those that don’t use email regularly and an email for those that have a hard time getting to the phone.  Also, put a date with the RSVP contact information to make sure that people can’t keep putting it off to the last minute.  Some people are always going to RSVP late, so be sure to have it due two days before you actually need it.  Stragglers can still RSVP and it won’t throw a wrench into your plans.  The last trick for increasing RSVPs, is to not label it RSVP, but to state “please respond by” or “let us know if you’re coming or not by”.  It’s amazing what using those phrases do for increasing your responses.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to follow up with those you don’t hear from; it’s possible the invitation never made it to the parents!

It is important to have activities at the party.  For older children, they should be loosely defined.  For younger children, 100% free-play works best.  The idea is to have fun, not play games on a schedule.  Socializing is the number one goal of children at parties, so don’t pack in the activities.  Some ideas to keep kids busy are art projects, a bouncy house, carnival games, movies, make your own pizza/decorate your own cookie/cup cake, or a type of presentation (magician, balloon artist, reptile guy, etc).

Having a birthday party isn’t about presents; it’s a celebration of your child’s life.  So don’t register for presents and don’t mention presents on the birthday party invitation.  If someone wants to know, they’ll ask.  It is OK, to mention, “no presents please,” however, don’t do that.  Some will always bring a present anyhow.  It will make everyone feel bad; those that didn’t will feel bad that they followed your directions and those that did will feel bad that they didn’t.  Besides, presents perform an important role; it is a major life lesson.

When a child must pick out a gift for someone else, they are learning how to give.  They must put aside their own wants and think of someone else’s wants.  It is also important that they learn to part with something that might really appeal to them.  Additionally, when a child gets a gift, it teaches them to receive.  They must learn to be gracious and say thank you, even if they don’t like it.  Moreover, the writing of thank you notes after teaches good manners and something that will carry them far through life.  NEVER skip the thank you note—good manners are never out of style!  If nothing else, it helps with handwriting practice.  It goes without say, for the previous lessons to have its full effect, open the presents at the party.

You do not need to serve a meal, but if you expect parents to stay, it is a good idea to have some finger foods and/or drinks available.  Do not hold your party during a mealtime if you are not going to be serving a meal.  A party 4 – 7 PM implies that dinner will be served since this covers all the dinner times.  This is why it is important to clearly put on the invitation what will be served at the party.

Do serve cake, or cup cakes, or a cookie cake.  Even if you don’t eat it yourselves, you are hosting the party and a good host tries to please their guests, not just themselves.  Kids will expect to have cake.  Don’t be afraid to think out of the box on cake flavors.  Some people, who think they don’t like cake, might just find out they do.  It’s always a good idea to have something vanilla on hand for those that don’t like something a little different.  Kids that like chocolate will generally eat vanilla, but those that like vanilla generally won’t eat chocolate.  And if you have gone out of the box with a Mint Oreo cake, you don’t have to worry that kids will think it is weird.

When it comes time to serve the meal, cake and ice cream, be sure the tableware (plates, napkins, cups) match the theme of the party.  Do not use generic themed items.  That will be one of the biggest things that tell the theme of the party to the children.  It’s one of the things that are usually the most important to a birthday boy or girl.

While you do not need to go overboard on decorations, don’t skip the party favors.  It’s a way for the birthday child to do a little giving and a lot of thanking.  They don’t have to be expensive; the dollar stores sell 3 packs of bubbles for $1.  Those small items from Oriental Trading or from the dollar store are treasures to kids.    It makes going home all that much easier.  

Once again, think out of the box with party favors. You can bake and decorate cookies that match the theme and decorate them nicely for a child to take home as part of, or all of, the party favor. An elaborate art project can double as the party favor. Send the kids home with balloons that were part of the decorations. Whatever you do send home as a party favor, it should match the theme.

Hand party favors out as children leave the party.

With these birthday party planning basics, any child’s party is bound to be a success.  It won’t matter if you have the party at your home, a park, the local skating rink, a pizza place or anywhere else you can think of.  All parties cover these items, and if you follow the advice, it will only lead to easy birthday party planning.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Excellent. I especially like the tips about getting people to RSVP.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Excellent tips! Thanks for sharing them :D


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