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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.