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Children's birthday parties: How much is too much?

Tracy Gallagher

Tracy Gallagher

If you're a mother, you're very likely the family social director. To you falls the task of creating birthday parties the kids will like and maybe engaging in a little good-natured rivalry with other moms over who had the cleverest cake or the knockout goodie bags.

But this social whirl can take its toll. After the pirate party and the tea party, what's new?

Moms, here's our Mother's Day present to you: some party-planning advice.

Cool Kids' Parties, a new show on the Fine Living Network, features tips on how to plan and execute themed kids' parties from beginning to end.

Host Tracy Gallagher, assisted by two party planners, works with moms and kids to put together unique parties with ideas for everything from invitations to games to food to goodie bags.

As a mother of three, Gallagher knows a thing or two about party planning. She also has hosted a series of shows and specials, including another family-friendly offering, Are We There Yet?

Gallagher chatted with the St. Petersburg Times about parties and finding just the right theme for your child.

What are the top three principles of a really good kid party?

• Doing what the child really wants (within limits . . . I am talking the theme, activities, etc.).

• Not too many kids . . . keep it simple.

• Organization. Get all your things done before the guests come — welcome everyone and make them feel special. Have food and drinks available. Have a family member take pictures for you so you can stay present — that helps make the party go smoother.

What age group are the parties on your show designed for?

We do everything from 3-year-old barnyard parties to a teenage girl who wants to start her own clothing business. We did a show on a fashion-designing slumber party. The girls design their own T-shirts with gems and fabric paint and sequins and appliques. Then we made them paper dolls of themselves. And then we made a life-size paper doll of the birthday girl and divided the girls into two teams and they had to come up with an outfit for the life-size doll made out of duct tape.

Do you plan the parties on the show?

No. I'm the host. But I'm also a mom with three kids who has thrown a number of birthday parties.

What's the best party you have given for one of your own children?

I really like taking a theme and going with it. The kids get so excited when they get involved. One year we had an Olympics party. We made gold medals and that was the invitation. We put international flags all over the yard. We had relay races and a pie-eating contest.

Did your mom throw parties for you? What was your favorite?

Yes, my mom threw parties for me, but those days were much different. Today, you have parents really indulging their kids, and the party has been just another pressure-filled event for Mom . . . trying to keep up with what their kids want and what everyone else is doing.

I was happy with my friends, a dance contest and a cake! And sometimes my mom threw in a pinata.

Do some of the moms on your show need lots of help, or are they more the type who already know how to throw a good party?

I found that most of them were very eager for some advice on how to make things easier . . . open to suggestions for new ideas — how to be more creative . . .

Is your show going to make moms feel like they have to throw these amazing, TV-style parties?

No. So many moms do go over the top and feel like they have to do everything. We just went to a very sweet, simple birthday party at this gorgeous house and they just had jump ropes and Hula Hoops out in the yard. The kids loved it. The show offers the inspiration to plan your own party. We do a lot of elements to a tee where the average mom might not have time to incorporate all of our ideas.

What do you think of the old rule that the number of guests you invite should equal the birthday child's age plus one? So somebody turning 5 would have six kids at their party?

It's important to have a good guest list. You have to know your child and ask them what they want (between a big and small party). To keep it smaller you can go with all the same gender or keep with family and a few neighbors. For 5-,6-, and 7-year-olds, I think the smaller, the better.

Do you have any other stand-out parties you've highlighted on your show?

One party for a soccer team, they made it like a Hollywood screening party (of videos of the season). It was really cute because these really athletic soccer players got all dressed up to come to the premiere. I was pretending to be asking for their autographs like they were on the red carpet for the Oscars.

What kind of a budget would you tell parents to stay within for their children's parties?

Well, that depends on a lot of things — if the child wants a small or bigger party, what kind of budget the family has, how old the children are, etc.

I am a big believer, however, in keeping it simple. You can have a super nice home party for $300 with 10 kids . . . or you can have a blow-out that may overwhelm your children.

Do you ever think a party planner should be called for a child's birthday party?

Heavens, no! Although I know in certain cultures, there are ages where it is a huge deal and a big family event. So, depending on the size of the family and party, one may need a little help.

In the planning process, were there ever any temper tantrums with the kids?

No. They should be part of the planning process so they know what is possible and not possible. I have found that they are so excited, they are in a good mood.

Do you find yourself holding your tongue when you go to the parties of some of your kids' friends? Do you ever see anything you would want to change?

No. Who am I to judge what one child likes vs. another? However, I am more impressed with the mom who refreshingly has a simple, not overdone, party and is confident with that.

Do you think we're always going to have to give out those dreaded goodie bags at kids' birthday parties?

Unfortunately we've created little monsters. I think every kid expects them now. But you can do something that's not a little plastic bag that's full of junk and trinkets, like making a flower pot and giving seeds to plant flowers. Have an activity where they make something and you put it in a cute little bag they can take home. Then you kill two birds with one stone. Or you can find those little Scholastic books for $3. Then the parents (of guests) appreciate that the (goodie bag) isn't something that's going to get thrown in the trash.

How old do your kids have to be before you stop throwing parties for them?

Never too old!

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg. Times staff writer Sherry Robinson contributed to this report.

. fast facts

Start the party

Cool Kids' Parties airs at noon Saturday on the Fine Living Network, a digital channel available in the bay area on Brighthouse Networks (check cable listings), DirecTV Ch. 232 and DISH Network Ch. 113.

Visit and search "cool kids" to see videos, post photos of your parties and find ideas.

Children's birthday parties: How much is too much? 05/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:39pm]
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