How to Throw a Great Party for Any Age
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Time: Two hours works well for those parents brave enough to leave their children and pick them up later, and gives the children enough time to enjoy themselves without hitting the dreaded meltdown point. -J.H.
The guest list: The number depends on where you'll be having the party but, regardless, invite the people significant in your child's life. -L.K.
Fun and games: Your child's personality should reflect the entertainment. Themed parties are fun because the children jump right in and use their imaginations. Get creative and make up activities around the theme. -J.M.
Food: Individually wrapped items like granola bars, fruit treats, and prepackaged crackers are all fantastic options to supplement your main meal. You can recycle what the children don't eat, and it's your best shot at getting them to eat something. -J.H.
Goody bags: Books around the theme of the party along with a small bag of candy are great. -L.K.
Capture the moment: Shoot the times when your child is interacting without you. Independence is huge at this age, so try to get those moments from a distance if possible. -J.H.
The cake: Ask your child what they want and offer them options. They'll feel like they have input and it will certainly get them excited. -J.H.
Elementary School (ages 6-8)
Time: Ninety minutes to two hours is appropriate at this age, when many kids have parties outside the home. -J.M.
The guest list: The number of guests won't overwhelm your child so decide based on the capacity of the party location. Families often opt for two parties: one for family and one for friends and classmates. -J.H.
Fun and games: Places like museums and skating rinks are great because the entertainment is built in. Or the party can be held at your child's karate or dance school and the children can take a class together, and then enjoy food and cake. -J.M.
Food: A make-your-own sandwich buffet makes the food experience fun and saves the cost of catering. -L.K.
Goody bags: Burn a CD of music that matches the theme of the party. -J.M.
Capture the moment: Children typically won't have any problem playing it up for the cameras so ask them fun, silly questions on camera and make sure to get a group photo to remember the day. -J.H.
The cake: Stick with your child's tradition but change it a little with sparkling, numbered, or unique candles. -J.H.
Tweens (ages 10-12)
Time: Two to three hours is ideal. -J.M.
The guest list: Consider the space in which you are entertaining and then overestimate that amount. There tends to be a little wiggle room with RSVPs and you should expect last-minute additions as well. -J.H.
Fun and games: Children want to feel grown up, so do a makeover party, a sleepover with an activity, or a baseball game. -L.K.
Food: Cook your child's favorite meal or have your child's favorite ethnic foods delivered. -J.M.
Goody bags: Try unexpected things like a bag of microwaveable popcorn with soda and candy for a backyard movie-theme party or a jar of chocolate syrup and one topping with a label that reads, "After Party Indulgence." -J.H.
Capture the moment: Give each child a disposable camera and let them take as many pictures as they want. It's fun for them and you'll end up with some great shots. -J.M.
The cake: You can make the cake the centerpiece of the party or get a cake that ties into the theme. -L.K.
Teenagers (ages 13-18)
Time: Between three and four hours, depending on the activity and how big the party is. -J.M.
The guest list: Expect 20 or more children, unless you are hosting a destination birthday party in which case your child should invite one or two friends. -J.H.
Fun and games: Teens want to feel cool so choose a place with a lounge-like atmosphere. A dance instructor can teach the group some moves. -L.K.
Food: Serve fried chicken and easy to eat pastas, and a sundae or a smoothie bar with virgin cocktails. -L.K.
Goody bags: Gift cards like $5 for Starbucks are the perfect fit. -J.H.
Capture the moment: Documentary style works well, so videotape the scene before the guests arrive, a few moments of your child getting ready, and some candid moments with friends. -J.H.
The cake: Simply cut the cake and pass it out or, if your child can handle the attention, have a few friends carry out the cake and sing. -J.H.