Tips for Your Kid’s Birthday Party with Friends

All of the tips you need to host a friend-party for your child’s next birthday. Get ideas for how often to have birthday parties for your kids, how long the party should be, and how to execute the party.

Kids surrounding a girl with a birthday cake

Birthday parties with friends are basically every child’s dream and frankly a nightmare for many parents. It can be a lot of work!

I have good friends who never do a friend party all the way to friends who do friend parties every year. There is no one right or wrong way to do parties–just what is right or wrong for your family. Here are some tips to get you thinking about what you want to do.

Choose a Frequency Policy

As I said, I have friends who do parties every year and I have friends who never do parties. I also have friends who land everywhere in between. I find this subject so fascinating that I pretty much ask everyone I know what their policies are. Here are some sample policies:

  • Never
  • Every year
  • Every year. The child can choose either a party at home with friends or to invite one friend to go out and do something “bigger”–like going to a movie or something.
  • Every other year–the family chooses either to have birthdays on odd years or even birthdays
  • Totally random. Whatever suits their lives at the time
  • Have parties at milestone birthdays. “Milestone” is whatever you make of it. Some do 1 and 5. Some do 8 and 16. Some do 5, 8, and 12. Some do 6, 8, 12, and 16. Those are just some examples–a milestone year is whatever you think it is.

Are you wondering what my policy is? So am I! Seriously–my husband and I have never settled on an exact plan. I see merit to all plans and like almost all of them. My husband’s opinions change. A year ago, he thought we should do it every year and didn’t think it was a big deal (but I pointed out he wasn’t the one planning the parties). This year, he thinks it shouldn’t be every year.

I love the every other year thing, but my three older kids are pretty on top of each other so far as when they fall in the year, and they are also all two years apart, so if we did “even” years, then I would still be having three birthdays right in a row to plan.

So it would be nice to off-set their friend parties. I worry about forgetting who is up if we did it off-set, however.

I like the milestone idea fine, but I think we are more of the type to do parties more frequently than many people do in the milestone plan.

I don’t even mind the random thing–it makes sense to base it on what is going on at the time and if it makes sense that year for you, but I worry about “squeaky wheel” thing happening–I have some children who would push for a party and some who would politely wait for their turn and get looked over.

I really like the idea of offering a friend party or a fun activity. I think that allows children who aren’t party people the chance to celebrate in a fun way without being uncomfortable in a party setting (all of my children so far love parties, but I know some children are shy). The trouble I see with this is how do you choose just one friend?

So far, one policy we have set firmly is that friend parties do not start until age 5. I find that age to be the age the children are able to participate in games and listen well enough that it isn’t usually super stressful.

We do not do a party at age 6. We just never have.

Brayden had a party at 7 and we are planning on doing the same for Kaitlyn.

Now, age 8 is a big birthday for us being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. That is the age the child is baptized if they choose to be. Because of that, we decided to do a friend party at 8 also. But then we realized, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Then we are planning a party with friends as well as planning a baptism and hosting the family that comes to that. So it is a lot going on all at once.

Brayden is one of my “squeaky” children who loves to have parties and he wants one as a 9 year old, also. We haven’t decided if he will or not.

>>>Read: How To Mentally Prepare Your Child for a Birthday Party

Choose a Party Length

The length of your party will depend on what activities you plan to include. As I have asked around, most people have it be 1.5-2 hours long. Some go longer.

For age 5, I like 1.5. When Kaitlyn turned 5, we did 2 hours and at the 1.5 hour point a little girl said, “This is a really long party.” My husband and I felt that too! For McKenna’s birthday turning 5, we did 1.5 hours and that was perfect.

For age 8, we did 2 hours and that worked out well.

Choose a Theme

You don’t have to have a theme, but I find it makes the party planning much easier. With Pinterest around, this is so much easier than it has ever been. I always go with whatever my child is the most interested in at the time. Brayden has done Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Nerf. Kaitlyn did Cowgirl and will do Animal Safari. McKenna did Princesses. See my Birthday Parties board here.

Make a Guest List

Talk to your child about who he wants to invite. Brayden often wants to keep his parties smaller. McKenna and Kaitlyn have to be kept in some parameters. With them I have them choose if they will be going with friends from church or friends from school (and some overlap). We usually keep it to 12 or fewer.

Choose Activities

Once you have your theme and have an idea of how many children you want to invite, you can choose your activities. We have found that some sort of scavenger hunt keeps the children focused and interested in the activities. We do a clue that leads to an activity, and then once the activity is over, they get the next clue. They have some overall problem they are trying to solve (searching for treasure or a lost slipper). For Kaitlyn’s 5th, we just had different cowgirl-related activities, and that didn’t keep the children as engaged as the scavenger hunts have been.

For Brayden’s Star Wars party, my husband set up an obstacle course in the backyard and did “Jedi Training.” So each activity helped them learn to be a Jedi. For his Nerf party, they did shooting training and then split into teams and had a Nerf war.

Be sure whatever you plan, you have an ability to do it inside or outside. For almost every party we have had, it has rained.

Oh, and of course, Pinterest is a great resource for this, also.

digging for treasure at the Indiana Jones party

Decide on Cake and Decorations

Choose a cake to make and the decorations you want. Just a little tip–young children don’t pay much attention to the details adults put into decorations for parties. I do not put much time, effort, or money into decorations. The kids just don’t appreciate and it creates busy work for you. If you enjoy such things and it brings you joy, go for it! But please don’t feel like you have to go to great lengths just because Pinterest parties are full of those efforts.

For cake, I like cupcakes for friend parties. They are easy to distribute and eat.

Make Invitations

You can buy invitations at the store or from Oriental Trading (or places like Etsy or Shutterfly). You can also print something up on your computer or make them by hand.

Deliver Invitations

I like to deliver invitations just over one week early. Two weeks can be good. You don’t want it so early that people forget. You also don’t want it so close that people have other plans. I like just over one week because I am the type who does errands on a certain day every week. It is challenging to me to get an invitation a few days before a party and have to make a special trip to buy a present. So I do it just over a week to give people time to go shopping. Side note: I have friends who stock up on gifts so they don’t have to go shopping. I think this is a great idea. For some reason, I can’t bring myself to do it. I think it is because I get satisfaction out of choosing gifts specific to people.

Choose Party Favors

Not all regions have party favors, but where I live, people do party favors to send home with the guests. I always choose something that is in the theme of the party. I also never do a bag full of dollar store toys. For Indiana Jones, we were able to find some Safari Hats from Oriental Trading. For Cowgirls, we got cowboy hats and bandanas from Oriental Trading. For Star Wars, it was a light saber. For the princess party, we did a wand and bubbles. For the Nerf party, we did Nerf guns. This was an expensive one, but we needed kids to have Nerf guns for the party to work and it was a special birthday.

Target training at the Nerf party

Go Somewhere

An alternative is to go somewhere! Many places have birthday packages. Bowling, laser tag, trampoline houses, gymnastics gyms, swimming pools, ice skating arenas…by the time you buy cups, plates, napkins, decorations, invitations, party favors, cake, etc. it is can often be about the same price to go somewhere as it is to have it at home. You pay a little more, but you don’t have to prepare your house or clean up after it.

Take Photos

My good friend Serra offered to take pictures at McKenna’s birthday party. It was so great! I hadn’t ever thought to have someone be dedicated to it, but it is brilliant. There are so many things I have missed at other parties because I have been managing the party. But having someone whose sole focus in to take photos is a great way to capture many special moments. You can ask a friend, neighbor, aunt, grandma…etc.

So there are my tips so far! Do you have any tips? What is your friend party policy?

Tips From Readers

Natalie said: “We plan to limit friend parties to key ages. We will have low-key family parties most of the time with an emphasis on her giving instead of getting, and being thankful for another year of life.” For managing friends and family, just whatever works that year. If family is nearby then they would be invited along.

Christina said: We have a birthday party every year, but it usually doesn’t involve a lot of other people besides the birthday girl or boy and immediate family. Last year by chance we had family in town so she had cousins to play with and a friend from Mother’s Day Out. I don’t limit how many to invite, but I think ideally 3-4 guests is the best for our daughter (turning 5). I like the one guest per year guideline, at least up until 5-6 guests. After that, it would be too much for me. LOL Family and friends all come to the same event. We do have a small recognition on the actual birthday (a couple of gifts, cake, and special dinner on the actual birthday). Our kids are still very young, though.

If you do them at your own home, prepare for a TON of work: cleaning, prepping, decorations, cooking/preparing. It will be EXHAUSTING! Also, if you plan on an outdoors party, always have a back up location in case of rain or bad weather. To save money at our local park, we just claim a picnic table since the kids will be playing the entire time anyway, and we don’t have to pay the $100 fee to use a shelter.

Tiffany said: We have four boys. We have one party a year, and who the party is for rotates through the kids, so each child gets a party every four years. There’s got to be a better way to say that, but I don’t know what it is. Create a facebook event 3-4 weeks ahead. Hand out paper invitations 2-3 weeks ahead. I usually check well ahead with “must have” guests to make sure a given date will work for them. We limit it to the kids in their Sunday School class and their families. As they get older and a parent present with each kid isn’t a big deal anymore, we’ll probably still stay with kids in their SS class. We are joining a homeschool co-op next year, so that may change it a bit. SS friends + co-op friends? No family nearby, so it hasn’t been an issue. My mom has been visiting from out of town for a couple of parties, so obviously she attends (and helps a lot!)

Keep it simple. Kids don’t really like a lot of elaborate party games. Just give them balls, balloons, etc. and let them have at it. This may be different with older kids. The oldest one I’ve had a party for was turning 4.

Side note: In addition to the party every four years, each year we try to do something special as a family for each of their birthdays. Out to dinner, special activity, etc. Also, when they turn 5 (and eventually 10 and 15), they get a special outing, tailored to the child’s interest, with just Mom and Dad – no siblings allowed. And we do it big. For our oldest, who was a tiny foodie, we took him out to a VERY nice restaurant (in the Top 10 in the nation on TripAdvisor). For our second, a big-time animal lover, we purchased a package at the zoo that allowed him to meet and brush the rhino, go behind the scenes, meet the keeper, etc.

Nicole said: We do a party year after age 3-4. Sometimes we also have a family over at a separate time. How we manage guests depends. My kids have the choice between a big party with lots of friends at home or an outing with one friend. I limit the guest list a little bit if the number starts to feel out of hand but I have no set formula. We try to have the birthday party on the actual birthday. So family can come or not. If they don’t come to the party, they often drop by with a gift some other time.

Treat it like a big play date. Kids are fairly easy to keep happy in a big group. I only plan good and cake, the rest of the party is free play. I’ve had pretty good success with that. My husband sometimes does games, though.

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1 thought on “Tips for Your Kid’s Birthday Party with Friends”

  1. Laura thanks for sharing! It is interesting to hear how parties are done in different parts of the country.


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