As soon as the air turned warm and my weather-beaten gardens were raked out and replanted with flowering beauty, my thoughts started turning to summer parties. Who doesn't love a great shindig where you can both have adult interaction (something that we moms so badly need!) and children can have a blast too? Planning a party that people of all ages can enjoy isn't as hard as it might sound. In recent years it seems like kid's parties have gone over the top, but family-friendly parties can be laid-back affairs where everyone has a great time.
Ready to plan? Here are some dos and don'ts to get started.
Do invite enough kids (and adults). The key to any successful party is to invite a good mix of guests with different perspectives and personalities. When it comes to kids, you want to try to make sure that there isn't a big gap between the ages. For instance, it could get boring for the only 16-year-old at the party if they next oldest kid is 8-years-old. So try to mix it up with ages. Remember, when you are that young, age matters a great deal.
Don't lock kids away. It's certainly tempting to stick the kids in the family room and keep them away from the adults. But if you are trying to throw a great party that both kids and adults can enjoy, then you need to let the kids be part of the fun. Since it's nearly summertime, taking the party outside will give kids and adults plenty of space to have fun. That said, be sure to have a room set aside somewhere for diaper changes, parental convos (and time outs) and other things parents might need to take care of.
Do make sure that there is some kid-friendly food. Sushi, calamari and caviar, oh my! It sure can be tempting to throw a party with the ultimate foodie menu. But if you are going to be offering exotic tastes, be sure to include a few mainstream favorites too. While I am not advocating catering to the kid's tastes, it won't kill you to serve some pigs in a blanket beside the canapes to make sure that everyone has a treat to eat. Better yet, make the meal a potluck so that families can bring along something that everyone in their clan will enjoy. Also, don't forget the kid-friendly drinks too (and label the virgin and non-virgin versions!).
Don't overdo it with the kid's games. Having activities (or at least sporting equipment) at the ready for the little ones is a great idea, but don't overdo it with the activities and the games. If parents have to spend the whole party peering over their daughter's shoulder as she paints pottery and designs sleepshirts, the allure of the party for all ages loses some appeal. Instead, set out frisbees, balls and playtoys so that kids can self-occupy. At a recent party I attended, one non-parent brought glow-sticks for the kids which were a ton of good, clean, easy fun.
Do relax. Instead of over-managing and trying to rule how all the kids behave, just be relaxed. If kids get into a life-threatening situation, step in. Otherwise, let the parents handle the situations. Don't yell or freak out if a kid starts pulling all the books from your bookcase shelves either. That will only set an uncomfortable tone for the party—and you don't want that. Instead, be zen about it and realize that messes can be cleaned up, but throwing a good party is a one-shot deal.
Originally published in 2009.
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