4. Create new rituals. Kelly suggests playing lively music during the first half hour of the party to help the children relax when they first arrive. Also, she says, simple games such as throwing pennies in a wastebasket or pinning the tail on the donkey can work just as well as more elaborate games. The Birthdays Without Pressure website offers other ideas, such as asking the birthday girl or boy to plan the family meal, or going on a special outing with a parent every year.
5. Give back. That search for meaningful family rituals is what drove Meredith Alexander to found her nonprofit organization, Milk and Bookies, which helps parents plan birthday parties focused around collecting, inscribing, and donating books for children to a charity. "I was looking for something where my young child would understand that this is something that we do—we help others," she says. She started by inviting her son's friends to a local bookstore to pick out their favorite books, draw on bookplates to personalize them, and then arrange to give them to children who need them.
Today, Milk and Bookies has helped donate more than 20,000 books to charity with birthday party events all over the country. On the nonprofit's website, milkandbookies.org, parents can get tips for organizing the parties and order supplies, including bookplates. "They feel like they've made somebody's life better," Alexander says of how children feel after participating in a book giveaway. And parents, she adds, are happy not to collect more toys than their child could ever need or appreciate.
In other words, just because the last five parties you attended involved a professional clown and custom gift bags, doesn't mean your child's party has to. In fact, the other parents might thank you for taking a different approach.