Be mindful of your child’s needs, says Warner. In the excitement of the day, don’t forget to make sure your child has food and is not getting overwhelmed. You might consider making your toddler’s room off-limits to guests to avoid the problem of kids wanting to play with your toddler’s toys—always a dicey situation.
Play a game that all the kids know. “Find out from your toddler’s preschool teacher some games the children play as a group, and plan on doing one as soon as everyone arrives,” says Sheila Ellison, author of How Does She Do It? 101 Life Lessons from One Mother to Another (HarperCollins, 2004). Playing a familiar game will help focus the toddlers and the party will less likely dissolve into chaos at the outset.
Keep the party short, says Warner. “Toddlers have minimal attention spans and they wear out quickly,” she says, suggesting it go no longer than an hour. “Have lots of simple activities for the kids to do. When they tire of one, move on to the next, or just allow free play with a handful of toys.”
Allow for some quiet time. “It’s hard being the center of attention all day, so allow your toddler some quiet breaks, even during the party,” says Warner. I remember attending the birthday party of a little girl who retreated upstairs to her room halfway through the celebration while her friends continued playing without her. Her easygoing parents did not force her to come down. After about 20 minutes, the girl happily rejoined the group on her own.
“Don’t open presents with other toddlers there,” says Ellison. If you do, you’re asking for trouble. Toddlers will want to play with the birthday child’s new toys, leading to an inevitable tug-of-war for the brightest, shiniest new thing. For Sookie’s birthday, Vincent-Orth and her husband asked that guests bring no gifts at all. “She doesn’t need more toys,” says Vincent-Orth, “and besides, I try to be selective about the toys she gets.”