What: Pointy Party Hat
Why: The elastic pinches chins and necks, the pointy tops poke, and they never stay on during the whole party anyway.
Better: Inexpensive plastic headbands turned into antennae with the addition of pipe-cleaner stems and Styrofoam balls as adornments; make them ahead of time or let the kids paint or decorate the balls as a party activity. Or make paper bag hats, which can double as name tags: Just roll up the edges of white deli-size sacks into a brim and decorate ahead of time or at the party.
What: Cardboard Noisemaker
Why: They get spit-soaked, and after being in circulation for a half hour or so, no one can identify his own (used) one.
Better: Buy plastic kazoos (about $1 apiece at toy or music stores), write names on them or put on stickers to lessen germ-swapping, and let everyone hum "Happy Birthday."
What: Perilous Pinata
Why: Who thought of blindfolding kids and giving them sticks to swing wildly about? And the candy grab afterward requires crowd control worthy of riot police.
Better: Do-it-yourself treasure balls. Scrunch a small toy favor inside a wad of construction paper. Tape into a ball shape, then wrap with a long crepe paper strip, taping stickers, tattoos, and small toys along its length. Secure the end of the roll with a sticker. Let kids toss, roll, or unravel their treasure ball (make sure they're light and won't hurt partygoers).
What: Sugary Party Favors
Why: They've had their cake; they don't need candy too. Better: Think nonedible, interactive, and instant fun: Sidewalk chalk, stickers and a sticker book, a puzzle, or a jar of bubbles are all fine, sugar-free alternatives.