Parties are supposed to be fun, right? Not, it seems, if it's a children's party and you're the birthday boy or girl’s parent.

According to research, most parents 'dread' their child's party, with 79% believing they have to impress other parents, nearly a third feeling pressure from those parents, and almost as many (31%) saying they couldn't face letting their child down with a below-par party.

The study of 1,000 parents for Cussons Mum & Me found that most parents started planning the big event at least a month in advance, with a few making arrangements up to six months ahead.

Set your budget

The study also found that kids of today expect action-packed parties at the local leisure centre, bowling alley, soft play centre or the hire of a bouncy castle, and 70% of mums spend more than £200 on giving their child a dream party.

Siobhan Freegard, founder of parenting website Netmums, says that common perceptions of competitive party-planning can be disregarded – mums and dads just want to make it a special day for their little ones.

"Putting on a big birthday party is often assumed to be about one-upmanship or showing off to other parents - but this study shows it's simply about giving your child the best time you can,” she says.

“Whether your budget is £20 or £200, all mums and dads want is for their child and his friends to have the best birthday full of happy memories."

Party plan like a pro

Mother-of-three Louise Rees, who runs party and event specialists Party Bliss, says a good tip for a successful party is to keep it intimate.

"A good party doesn't need loads of guests and their siblings where the birthday child is overwhelmed and lost in the crowd," she says.

"Don't worry about being the first parent not to invite the whole class. Mothers will be grateful that you were brave enough to limit to people the birthday child likes and enjoys sharing special moments with."

She also suggests parents should only make food for a proportion of the guests.

"Kids don't eat much - only cater for 75% of the guests so you're not left eating egg sandwiches for the rest of the week."

Kids party bag

Rees says themed parties where kids dress as pirates or princesses are always popular, and that the key to a good party is planning, keeping things simple, and making the birthday child feel special.

"It's important for the parent not to get stressed - a lot of the time, if parents host a party themselves, they're so busy, they don't get the chance to speak to other parents or take pictures.

"Parents can get very panicky about the whole thing."

It’s in the bag

Another time-honoured party ingredient is the party bag, and this is where it can get competitive. Indeed a poll for Wacky Warehouse found that 45% of mums said they felt under scrutiny when it came to the contents of gift bags.

While kids used to be chuffed to be sent home with a yo-yo, sweets and a slice of birthday cake, some of today's mums said they found themselves competing with other parents to give away personalised gifts.

In addition, today's party bags sometimes contain gift vouchers or a book as well as the all-important sweets.

Rees advises: "Don't put loud blowy things in, because they'll tear the bag open before they've left and there'll be even more noise. Just put in a select few nice quality items."

If you’ve been stressing over first, second and third birthday parties and think it might get better with age, beware - mother-of-three Tamsin Kelly, editor of parenting website Parentdish.co.uk, warns that that the worst is yet to come.

"Party competitiveness reaches its peak when children are five to around 10 years old,” she says.

She points out that often children themselves take the lead in stopping party planning excess, either because friendship groups become smaller or because, faced with a choice, they'd prefer a lasting present to a big party.