The Perfect Kids' Birthday Party

Experts say to invite the same number of kids as the child's age, but trust your judgment about how many little guests your kid can happily handle.

What Does Baby Want?

Everyone has a different tolerance for party planning, and when it comes to potential for stressful logistics, kids' parties rank second only to weddings. Still, some of us thrive on it: We love big affairs with lots of people. Others want only a handful of guests, thank you very much.

Many kids are adaptable and will roll with whatever celebration you put on, as long as they get parental attention and some semblance of a normal routine (don't mess with naptime, Mom!). But you know your own child—adjust the level of hoopla to whatever you think he can handle.

And we're not going to lie: Anything you do will require some work. Just sharing cake with your 1-year-old is a mess—but fun! And that's what it's all about, providing everyone —but mostly you and your child—with a good time. We've rounded up ideas to help you enjoy the day.

How to Throw a Birthday Party Infographic with Logo

    You're Invited!

    • Are young kids coming? Have your party take place either before 1 p.m. or after 3 p.m. to avoid naptime conflict.
    • For the sake of your sanity, give the party a start and end time. It's the first step in getting the "time to go!" hint across.
    • With the invitations themselves, add a homemade touch by tracing your baby's hand on the outside of a blank card. Or let your toddler "decorate" with stickers.
       
    • RELATEDDownloadable Invites

    Look Who's Coming

    Consider having separate parties for the grown-up crowd (grandparents and other relatives, plus adult friends) and the kiddie crowd (cousins, playgroup kids, or your child's preschool class). Each celebration needs different things: Grown-ups want adult food and at least a few hours to talk and catch up. But a party full of kids who are the same age should be nonstop games, kidcentric food, and most important, goodbyes after an hour and a half at most.

    The exception: At baby's first birthday, mixed ages will likely come and go over a couple of hours, and no one expects fellow 1-year-olds to play organized games.

      The Gifted Child

      • Do you wish your child could receive fewer toys? Suggest books or bookstore gift certificates.
      • Try not opening gifts until after everyone leaves if there are a lot of jealous 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old guests. If someone must see baby open his or her gift, do it in a room away from tantrum-prone youngsters.
      • Write down who gave you what (you can assign Grandma this job), then send short thank-you notes. A pain for a busy mom, we know, but so appreciated by the guests, who also had to go out of their way.
      • You can register for your child's gifts at Toys "R" Us. It's not very subtle but it's a way to prevent duplicates and inappropriate toys.

        Cakes and Goodies

        Cake Secret!

        One of our editors road-tested this idea with great success. To make a boxed cake mix taste like you did it from scratch, eliminate the oil and 1/3 of the water, and add a cup of mayonnaise instead. For best results, whisk the mayonnaise with the eggs and add them into the dry ingredients together. If you top the cake with homemade buttercream icing (milk, unsalted butter, vanilla, and confectioners' sugar—many boxes of the sugar have the recipe), it tastes divine!

          The Cake Can Be a Game

          Make a tray of mini cupcakes, regular cupcakes, or muffins. Frost cupcakes with icing or muffins with cream cheese. Put out bowls of sprinkles, colored sugar, and mini chocolate chips and let the kids dip in to make their own creations.

          Goody Bags

          Kids love goody bags and they really don't care what's in them—they just want to get something! Don't make yourself crazy (or go broke) looking for kites or T-shirts or other big-ticket items. Just buy a box of sidewalk chalk, and for each bag, tie sticks together with a bright ribbon. Throw in a bottle of bubbles. Done! We put them in cute pails, but decorated paper bags do just as well.

          For 4-year-olds, you may not get away with a bag that doesn't include candy. But for younger kids, if you want to include food, try adding bags of Teddy Grahams or Goldfish crackers. Don't forget to make a goody bag for the birthday child, too!

            Prepping the Birthday Child

            Being the star of the party is hard. A 1- or 2-year-old is overwhelmed by the event even if you discuss it beforehand. A 3- or 4-year-old is tightly wound with anticipation. Either way, talk to your child the evening before the party about what's going to happen: Other kids will see his room, play with his toys, etc. Hide special toys that your child can't bear to share. And remind him there's a reward when the whole thing's over: presents!

              Let the Games Begin

              By your child's second birthday party, you're going to need organized activities. You may even need them for his first birthday if the guests include, for instance, a bunch of preschool-age cousins. Some suggestions:

                • Have an activity to do immediately to warm up the kids. Try coloring birthday hats or putting stickers on a "Happy Birthday" sign.
                • Decorate the children. For instance, with face painting, washable tattoos, or hand-stamps. Not all toddlers like this, but some love it. Ideally you know a friend or teenager who's good at it—she can set up in a corner and let kids come to her.
                • Go on a scavenger hunt. Kids can search for cheap little favors (pinwheels, balls) or something seasonal (mini pumpkins). In the winter, each child could get a mitten and look for the matching one.
                • Music always works. Some parents shell out $100 to $200 for a local kids' performer to come over and do a rousing circle time. For less expensive fun, try: 1. Noncompetitive musical chairs. Set several children's chairs in a row with enough toy instruments on them so that each kid can have one. Put in a CD and play music as each child marches around the chairs, playing the instruments. When you stop the music, each child puts his or her instrument down and picks up a different one. Start the music and marching again. Stop, switch. 2. Freeze dancing. Play music and have the kids dance. When the music stops, the kids have to freeze. No one has to be "out." Just play until the kids get bored. 3. Musical hot potato. The kids sit in a circle and pass a stuffed toy around while the music plays. When the music stops, the child left holding the toy is "out" (but gets to go somewhere fun). The last one holding the toy wins.
                • Everyone gets something! If you're compelled to award prizes, be sure every kid goes away with a sticker or ribbon just for participating.

                All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.