Back to the sane and simple:

It will probably require a little groundwork. Our sense of fairness comes into play if all the other parties feature reverse gift-giving and live entertainment. No mom wants to be seen as too cheap to reciprocate what her child has experienced at other people’s events. No one wants her child to be known as the one who gave the lousy party. Do some quiet talking with the other parents or invite them over for coffee and planning. Talking about it ahead of time makes downsizing parties a group project. Talking about it when there is no party date due for awhile prevents the awkwardness of changing the rules when someone has already booked the magician.

Agree to go back to the very sane party rule of one guest per year of a child’s age. Experts have been telling us for years that this is what children can handle.

Overstimulation for much more than an hour is a recipe for chaos and tears. Agree to keep parties for little kids short as well as small. 45 minutes to an hour and a half of fun is about all that young children can manage before they need a quiet time.

Young children aren’t necessarily party animals. Different kids have different comfort levels with groups. No hosting parent should be asked to handle a withdrawn, tearful child or a wild one (other than her own). Agree that parents of children under the age of six will stay for the party. This gives children the reassurance of a parent onsite and provides an instant trip home if a child can’t handle the party scene.

Brainstorm ways to keep the entertainment simple. Summertime in the suburbs or the country lends itself to a sprinkler in the yard. City kids can have a party in the park. Winter time in the Snow Belt can be a time for making snowmen or meeting at the local hill for sledding followed by hot chocolate. A simple craft project can keep everyone busy and happy — and gives them something to proudly take home. Hokey? You bet! Let the kids play. Have some refreshments. Provide some balloons or party hats. Don’t forget the cake and candles. It’s a party!

If you and your friends really can’t stand not giving a bash, here’s a radical idea: Leave the kids out of it. Making things saner for kids doesn’t have to mean giving up on parties. Have wonderful, over-the-top adult get-togethers every now and then instead.

Most important: Remember what kids’ birthdays are for. A child should get special attention, caring, and recognition on his or her special day. That could mean a favorite breakfast, getting out of chores for a day, being able to request a favorite meal, finding an “I love you” note in the lunchbox, and being toasted at dinner. Children who hear us say “We’re so glad you’re here!” in many ways throughout the day are kids who grow up feeling valued and cherished. That, after all, is what these celebrations are supposed to be about.