Avoiding party politics
BIRTHDAYS are magical when you're a child – but sadly that magic doesn't help mums and dads conjure up the money to pay for the celebrations.
A recent survey found that two-thirds of parents think children's birthday parties have become too expensive, and 40 per cent admit to feeling pressured into organising extravagant birthday parties for their youngsters.
The survey, for J K Rowling's children's charity Lumos, revealed that 42 per cent of the parents questioned spent between £100 and £500 on their children's birthday parties last year.
Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of parents' social networking site Netmums, says the trend for parties seems to run in cycles.
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"At one point some years back everyone went party crazy and started trying to outdo each other with bigger, better and more lavish parties," she said.
"I think it came to a head when the papers reported one of the Beckham kids having an extravagant birthday bash.
"There was a real backlash and these very expensive showy parties stopped being cool and started to look crass, and there was a resurgence of jelly-and-ice-cream parties."
However, Ms Freegard says the trend for traditional parties didn't last long, and ruefully admits: "Over the past two or three years I have seen it get ridiculous again."
Examples of more over-the-top modern children's parties include horse-riding parties, hiring stretch limos, and studio-based celebrations where a group of youngsters make a soundtrack and video to a famous music track.
However, Ms Freegard says Netmums forums seem to indicate that extravagant parties are now on the wane.
"What we're seeing are signs of the party bubble bursting again – so don't feel pressured into an expensive party," she said.
"The old-fashioned games like pin the tail on the donkey, musical statues and pass the parcel with chocolate buns and ice cream cake are great fun and have a novelty value now, which makes them even more cool."
Former magician and children's entertainer Rob Grigor, who runs The Complete Children's Party Survival Guide website – find it at www.kidspartysurvivalguide.com – which he set up to help parents "stand at least a fighting chance of getting through the big day relatively unscathed", says that while traditional home celebrations, often with entertainers such as magicians or clowns, are still part of the children's party scene, popular alternative venues include restaurants, soft-play areas, tenpin bowling, ice skating, swimming, football, go-karting, theme parks and cinemas.
"There are now a wide array of alternatives to the standard birthday party and a great deal of rivalry to provide something different and 'better' than what has gone before," he says.
Themed parties are still very much in vogue, with the traditional pirate and princess themes high on the list, along with other favourites including Harry Potter, pop stars, Barbie, Toy Story, Spongebob Squarepants and general fancy dress.
While younger children are usually happy with whatever party their parents choose, as they get older children are more demanding.
Ultimately, parents need to set a budget they can afford – and stick to it.