HomeTumblr Blog for Kindergarten TeachersSkypeFree eBooksJean Marzollo, author of I SPY

Birthday Parties For Children



Melissa is two years old. It is her birthday party. She is all dressed up in a pink dress, white tights, and new party shoes. Her apartment, decorated with twisted streamers of pink crepe paper, is filled with ten two-year-olds from her playgroup. Melissa's mother is serving punch to the ten mothers, who are chatting happily in the living room. The children are wandering, actually waddling (most of them are still in diapers), gleefully around the apartment, touching things and playing with Melissa's new toys. Where is Melissa? She is in her crib crying. She has never seen so much confusion. Her mother keeps saying to the other mothers, with a frantic laugh, "I don't know what's the matter with her." Everyone is having a good time, it appears, except Melissa and her mother.

David is five. It is his birthday party. Last year at this time, Danny-his older brother by two years-ruined the party by winning all the games. This year Danny and David have made a deal: Danny will not participate in any of the games; instead, he will announce them. I, their mother, feel this is a brilliant solution to the chaos sibling rivalry can cause at a birthday party. So, the time comes for the games. Danny announces a beanbag toss, and one by one the guests take turns. Scores are tallied, and Danny announces that Jed has won, whereupon David bursts into tears. He is sobbing inconsolably. Finally, finally, when he calms down, he tells me he thought that since his brother was running the games, he was going to win them all, just as his brother had last year. What a party that was going to be! How he was looking forward to it! We go on with the party somehow, but David never quite recovers from his disillusionment.



Boy with Star


Matt is eight. His mother drops him off at a classmate's house for a birthday party. A few hours later Matt is delivered home, whereupon he tells about the violent murder movie to which he and the other children at the party were "treated." Matt's mother is furious. She had no idea he was going to this movie. If she had known, she would have kept Matt home.

What kind of a mother would take a bunch of eight-year-olds to a murder movie? A mother who has held children's birthday parties in her home before and, frazzled after the last one, declares, "Never again"; a mother who works and has no time to plan something for her child; a mother who, like Matt's friend's, does not know what to do so decides, "I'll take them to Cinema 4 on Saturday afternoon. Something will be playing." Something is playing. It is a murder movie. "Oh, well," she says, "at least they'll like the popcorn and soda, and they'll be quiet. And then it will all be over for another year."

As of this writing I have given fourteen birthday parties for my two children. None was so terrific. I want to brag about it. Several went fine. Once a child had to be taken to the emergency room because she had cut her hand on a metal frog-clicker toy. Many, many times it rained. Every time there were at least some tears. Still, each year, my children can't wait for their parties. I have never heard them say, "I don't ever, ever want to have another birthday party." It is only I and my friends who say that and who approach party day with dread.

The problem is, I guess, that we expect too much. We want this year's party to be better than last year's. We want to make our children happy on this special day. We love our children and want to express this love with a special, wonderful celebration. We want our children to have fun at the stroke of the clock, to feel overjoyed, and to express bliss graciously from two to four P.M. Every year we want this even though we know that it's a little much to ask anyone to experience two straight hours of ecstasy, and it's very unrealistic for us to think that we can ever make that happen.

The question is, then, What can we realistically expect to happen at a child's birthday party?

We can realistically expect a special feeling in the air. This feeling need not be one of frenzy; it can be quietly anticipatory.

We can realistically expect that the birthday child will happily open presents, but may not express appreciation for each one. We will probably have to remind the little darling to say thanks.

We can realistically expect that what the birthday child will like best about the party will be not the money we have spent or the time we put into making homemade party baskets, but rather the friends that are gathered together (when else do we invite that many children over all at once?) and the help we give everyone playing games (when else do we ever do that?).

When the party is over, we can realistically expect that the birthday child will feel let down and we will feel dazed, if not a little traumatized. This is a good time for a cooling-off activity. Perhaps we can plan to sit down with the birthday child and look over the new presents, play a game, or read a book together. We might even want to save one of our presents to give to the child at this time. Another good idea is to invite one guest to stay later than the others so that the sudden departure of friends is not so abrupt and total.

It seems to me that the most successful birthday parties are often the least elaborate. They follow the basic steps in the ritual: invitations, decorations, presents, desserts of cake and ice cream, treat bags for everyone, goodbyes, and it's over. The ritual need not be jazzed up, but if it is, only one or two special things are added. The cake may be unusual, the decorations may be out of the ordinary, one game may be a cleverly worked-out treasure hunt, but basically the party follows the plan the children expect. Too many special things are just that: too much. For the best time, keep the party simple.

The best parties are short. An hour is perfect for toddlers. An hour and a half is fine for children four to six. Two hours might be okay for children seven to tem, especially if they are playing a game, such as baseball, but an hour and a half is still fine. Better to stop short than let it disintegrate.

If you can, keep the party small. You've probably heard the advice to invite only as many children as the ago of the child: one guest for a one-year-old, two guests for a two-year-old, and so on. This is a brilliant concept that I'm sure would contribute to party success, but I have never seen anyone follow it. Either we want more children to contribute to the party mood, or we want more children to bring our child gifts, or our child has too many friends and wants to invite them all. Try hard to keep the party as small as possible.

General Party Advice

I think the hardest part for a parent giving a birthday party is running the games. It's relatively easy to send out invitations, to make or buy a cake, and to set a party table. But how do you know ahead of time which games to play? If you pick games that are too easy for the children, they won't like them. If you pick games that are too hard, they will cry in frustration. If you pick games that are unfamiliar and complicated, you'll end up yelling in a shrill voice and getting a headache. (A birthday party headache, with its distinct sensation of pain at the temples and a whirlwind around you, is to be avoided at all costs.) If you pick noisy, rambunctious games and it rains, you are sure to get one of these headaches. If you pick games that are too short, you will end up looking at your watch in despair, realizing there's another hour to go for which you have no plans. If you let the children run all over the house, they'll probably like it. How bad can that be? Pretty bad. Knowing a little more about children's games can prevent such torture.

I hope the ideas in this book will give you enough to go by so that when you close the door after the last guest leaves at the next birthday party, you'll feel that what has just ended was not a nightmare but a celebration.

Good luck.


Text © Jean Marzollo 1983-2016, Illustrations © Irene Trivas 1983-2016

  Jean's 100+ Books | Bio | Articles | Gallery | Contact | Legal | Home  

Copyright © 2015-2016 Jean Marzollo. All rights reserved.