Planning a Toddler Party?


By Nicole Gregory

Don’t stress yourself out planning a grandiose event; you, your tot and his guests will likely be happier with something that’s more on his scale.

When my son was about to turn 3, I was determined to create the most perfect birthday party ever: an expensive Thomas the Tank Engine cake with matching plates, tablecloths and streamers, and gourmet hors d’oeuvres for adults. But I was so anxious the day of the party that I kept saying “Not now!” when Charlie needed something.

With all the excitement, he refused to nap and got crankier by the minute. Soon after the party began, he cried when a game didn’t go his way, knocked his best friend to the ground and screamed when a child poked a finger into the cake. Other parents murmured sympathetic words, my husband retreated behind his camera and at the end of the day I collapsed in nervous exhaustion. Happy birthday? Hardly.

Now that Charlie is 11, I can laugh at how that day turned out so badly. My need to be Martha Stewart–perfect kept me from realizing how little it takes for a toddler to feel special and have fun. Now I know that a small party can be hugely enjoyable for everyone—and a relaxed mother is one key to success. How can you organize a birthday celebration that is truly happy for your toddler and you? Here are some tips:

Avoid toddler meltdowns

Invite fewer guests. Some parents swear by this rule: The number of toddlers at the party should be equal to the birthday child’s age. The idea behind this suggestion is to keep toddlers from becoming overwhelmed. It’s also easier to organize games with fewer children, and to keep an eye on all of them at once to make sure everyone’s safe.

Maintain your child’s routine. The birthday child will be happiest if her day follows a fairly normal schedule. “Make sure your toddler gets a good nap and a healthy meal before the party,” says Penny Warner, author of Kids’ Party Games & Activities (Simon & Schuster, 1993), among many others. If she’s overly tired or hungry, she won’t enjoy the festivities as much. Virginia Vincent-Orth of Los Angeles had her 2-year-old daughter’s party at 3:30 in the afternoon, after naptime. “That way I knew Sookie would be happy,” she says.