A first birthday is really for the parents — you made it through the first year! Your baby doesn’t really care what you do. But the second birthday is a kid birthday. Whether you celebrate big or small, you want it to be fun for your child and whatever little buddies are invited.
Success hinges on first taking into account what has to be different about a toddler party:
Timing Shorter is better —1½ to two hours is plenty for most toddlers (and parents!). The traditional afternoon birthday party may be the worst time of day, as it’s sure to coincide with somebody’s nap time. Instead, consider a 10:30 a.m. party ending with lunch and cake.
Supervision At this age, unless you are inviting only one or two children who already know you well, you’re better off asking a parent to come along. At minimum, make sure you have a helper or two.
Food Think small, simple and safe (see Toddler Party Safety). It’s very difficult to keep excited guests sitting still for any length of time, so non-messy finger food is great.
Activities Forget about party games. Activities that don’t require any sharing, competing, following rules or standing in line are best. Try simple crafts (make sure you have lots of extra supplies), exploratory play with materials like playdough or sand, ride-on toys (one for everyone, to avoid conflicts) or big bins of Duplo.
Presents Keep the gifts really low-key — these kids are too young for polite thank yous, or to understand why the birthday boy gets gifts and they don’t. In fact, Kristen Piché asked guests not to bring presents to her twins’ second birthday, and Laura Storrie saved them to be opened when the party was over: “I find it’s too stressful for everyone when the gifts are opened in front of the guests,” she says.
One of the nicest toddler parties I ever attended had just one other “best friend” guest. We went to a small park that also had a petting zoo. We strolled around looking at the animals, then let the boys loose in the playground. Finally, a picnic lunch with cupcakes with candles. The kids had a fabulous time, and we parents enjoyed ourselves too.But if you, like mom Laura Storrie, are a birthday party enthusiast, consider what she cooked up for her two sons, whose birthdays are close together. When they turned one and two respectively, she hosted a big carnival-themed party, borrowing toys from a local toy-lending library. “I got out all the big ride-on type items — slides, cars, things like that. I decorated the front yard with balloons and all kinds of toys, and the kids played outside. It was great — just like a big playdate!”
This year Storrie did a fire truck theme, and borrowed lots of fire-fighter related toys, from fire trucks to puzzles. There was a paper mural for the kids to colour, and a cake shaped like a fire truck. The party culminated with a pre-arranged visit to the fire hall.
“We make sure there’s lots for everyone to do — a variety of options,” says Storrie. But she keeps the mood easygoing. “With toddlers, the more low-key the better.”
Toddler party safety
Of course you will supervise the partygoers carefully, but you’ll also be really busy and your parent guests may be distracted too — after all, they’ll want to chat with each other. So play it safe:
Babyproof thoroughly. You’re already babyproofed for your child, but other children may be attracted to different things. Take a careful look through your house — and outside too, if they’ll be playing in the yard.
Keep the food nut-free and non-chokable. If you are serving some nibblies that are more suitable for the adults and older children, keep them beyond the reach of the toddlers.
Check the car seat situation. If you are taking children to a party venue, you’ll need a properly installed car seat for each of them. (Another good reason to invite their parents, and let them do the transporting!)
Careful with the balloons. Yes, two-year-olds probably know better than to put balloon scraps in their mouths. But maybe not. Use balloons for decorations, not playthings, and clean up any popped ones promptly. Or use Mylar balloons instead.
Scope out play structures. Many adventure playgrounds are too challenging for toddlers to enjoy safely. Either stick to the low toddler structures, or have an adult one-on-one with each child.
Plan for small catastrophes. Wherever you are, have a roll of paper towels, a wet cloth or two, a change of clothes, a few extra diapers and a couple of bandages.