Birthday Party 101

Throwing a party for a bunch of rambunctious and excited little guests means you can expect the unexpected. Here are our top dos and don'ts for hosting your child's special day.

Don't invite too many kids

Avoid this common error by using the plus-one rule: invite the same number of kids as the child's age, plus one. So if you have a six-year-old, you'll invite seven children to the party. When it comes to a sleepover, you may want to limit the numbers to no more than five or six.

Do be specific on the invitation

Tell parents if they're invited to stay or if they're free to go. Inform them of what type of food you'll be serving - just snacks and cake or an actual meal? And let them know if their child should wear or bring something specific (warm clothes if they'll be playing outside, for instance).

Don't hand out invites at school

Because you most likely won't be inviting the whole class, this once-standard practice is now a no-no. Get addresses from parents and mail or e-mail the invites.

Do involve the birthday boy or girl

Your party is sure to please the birthday child if they help with the planning and prep. Discuss themes and games and shop for party favors together. The day before the party, let them help stuff goodie bags and hang birthday party decorations.

Don't let the party go on too long

Timing is everything when it comes to kids' parties. The best time for kids ages 4 and under is mid-morning, when they're most rested. An hour-long party should be sufficient for this age group - any later or longer and they'll get cranky and irritable. For children ages 6 and up, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. is a popular time, and older kids can handle a couple hours. Kids 6 and older may also be ready for a sleepover.

Do enlist help

Ask friends or hire your regular babysitter to lend a hand and provide an extra set of eyes.

Don't be caught off guard

A guest arrives with a little brother in tow; rain ruins an outdoor party; the talent doesn't show; several parents are late for pickup. Stuff happens. The solution? Make up at least three extra goodie bags so everyone goes home happy. Plan extra  birthday party activities so you're not scrambling. And have a couple of movies on hand to keep kids occupied while they wait. Deep breaths help, too.

Do play it safe

Have parents write down cell phone numbers on a single sheet of paper when they drop off their kids. Then post it on the fridge for easy access. Be sure to ask about food allergies on the invitation. And always have a first-aid kit on hand for the occasional scraped knee or bumped head.