How should we celebrate our toddler or preschooler's birthday?
Real Mom Problem
“I've been throwing my 5 year old a birthday party every year since she was born. The parties are getting to be a bit much. I'm wondering what everyone else does.”
- 1. Remember the purpose of the day is to celebrate your child
- 2. Don't feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses
- 3. Do what feels right for you and your family
Real Mom Solutions
All kids' birthdays are special, and everyone celebrates in their own way. See how the moms of CafeMom do birthdays and pick up some tips for your own family's festivities.
Throw a Party Every Year
Every year! You're only young once and when you get to be an adult, you don't get a party very often.
Birthday parties are very special in our house. My parents had five kids and we always had a big party for every one of our birthdays. I think it's wrong to only 'celebrate' significant ones. Aren't they all significant?
It does get expensive but the way we figure it, they're only kids for a short time and their birthdays are only once a year, so why not go all out and make a big deal of it?
I have always felt that each and every year of our children's life should be celebrated. As a mother of five I have always planned parties for each child as their special day came around, I just found ways to get the most celebration for the money and usually budgeted around $100 per child. I made cakes myself, held the parties at home or a neighborhood pool, bowling alley or some other inexpensive place. I created games myself around a theme and my children will always have wonderful memories of their special days. I think a person should just cut the budget a little but always celebrate, the children will remember.
I celebrate my children's birthdays as if it were a major holiday. They are my life. I am not saying this is right for everyone, but I enjoy giving my children the childhood I did not have.
Because I didn't have birthday parties growing up, I LOVE planning birthday parties for my girls each year!
Celebrate Without a Party
We don't do a big party every year. It's just not necessary. And it's not something that I want my children to come to expect.
I have always thrown birthday parties every year for both of our girls. Always here at home. But, this year since I was about 7 months pregnant, I didn't feel like it. So, we took them to Chuck E Cheese and then came home and did ice cream and cake and let our oldest open the presents we got her. A whole lot more relaxing and easier. We are probably going to do the same thing for our youngest daughter in January. I don't know why I didn't think of this before. She had just as much fun, and my house was not run over by people and their kids!
She's 3 and we've yet to do something more than have our parents and siblings over for cake. I personally feel like parties are more for school aged kids, once they have their own friends.
Sometimes we take a year off from having "friend birthday parties" and have just a family celebration. I think it teaches kids not to want so much!
I think if you do something special, even if it is just a fun day at home with the family and balloons and cake, I think that is what matters. Make sure the child knows that we're celebrating their birthday because they are special to us and we love them. You can accomplish this in MANY ways other than a party every year.
Make a time capsule (I used a fireproof box from Office Max). Ask the friends and loved ones to put in a letter, photo, news article, scripture, something special for the child. Then, set a date to open it. We plan to have it opened on the Sweet 16. I included special things such as the scrubs my husband wore to the hospital, our daughter's footprints, lock of hair, love story of how my husband and I met, a letter with favorite scriptures and a prayer for our daughter. I also included "silly" things like a laminated receipt for eggs, milk, butter and another for gasoline. Kind of recording the day in history if you will. The great-grandparents were especially thrilled with it as they included their love stories, and that info may not be available to her when she is 16 otherwise. Be sure you label it, lock it, and keep it where you will REMEMBER it.
It gets very expensive. We usually do things more as a family like bowling, skating, Chuck E. Cheese. We always have a good time.
Pick a Place or Think Up a Theme
I'm taking my daughter to build a bear with 3 little friends on Friday for her birthday. You can do a party for as little as $10 per child. They all leave with a great bear!!
For my daughter's 2nd we did an indoor picnic. She really isn't into themes. For the picnic we sent out spring-like invites (her birthday is in December) and I set up a big picnic blanket on the floor where the kids ate cake. I filled an inflatable pool with balls and hung streamers from the ceiling to make a waterfall. The kids loved running through the waterfall and jumping in the balls. We don't have a very big place so this worked really well. We didn't do presents and only invited a few kids. You don't have to have a theme to have a great party.
I had my son's birthday party at McDonalds last year. The minimum you can have is 10 (I only had five, but gave the extra happy meals to some of the adults). It was less than $70 and had a big play area that the kids played in after the party. They provided, goodie bags, a good sized cake, ice cream cups, and a hostess to go do the running. I got the room for two & a half hours. It was nice and not SUPER expensive.
I just did my boys' birthday party this last week. They turned 2 and 4 this month, and I did their party together. I hired a clown. It cost me $150 for two hours, but she brought a cotton candy machine, puppets, musical instruments, face paints, balloons, a magic show and a karaoke machine. They and their friends just had sooo much fun, and the clown did a great job keeping them entertained.
There are all kinds of fun themes. I try to do them around what my kids are really into or a big gift we might give them. For example we gave my son a trip to the zoo so we had a safari party. This year my daughter asked for a puppy party. One year my son wanted a shark cake and we based the party around the cake with a pirate party.
For my daughter's 2nd birthday I threw her a princess/prince/wizard theme party since there were both boys and girls there. They made their own hats, decorated their own party bags, made posters, colored - it kept them busy and happy. And this would be my suggestion to any mom who throws a party for younger ones. Keep them busy and the time will fly by so quickly.
I have come to find that most any "outing" type party be it bowling, skating rink, Chuck E. Cheese, Libby Lu (for girls), etc...comes out considerably cheaper than parties done at home or in a banquet hall.
Party Dos & Don'ts: Goody Bags
If you expect someone to come to your child's party and give your child a gift, I believe it is only proper to give a parting/thank you gift. I am actually having my son's third birthday party tomorrow and I am handing out Diego themed treat boxes. It's nothing spectacular, but I believe it's something necessary if you want people to come to your child's party and leave a gift.
To me, the cake, decorations, games, and the rest of the party is enough. I think it is silly for parents and children to expect gifts. Giving should be from the heart and I think it is a bit sad that people are always expecting things. To be at the party should be enough but if you want to do something small, have a basket of stickers by the door that kids can pick from before they go. After all, we all know what happens with the goody bag gifts anyway, they are played with for the day and then never seen again.
I believe giving a goody bag is only fair, if one kid gets a present they all should. Young children don't really understand the whole birthday thing fully.
What I don't understand is how people can say you should give goody bags because kids don't understand not getting a gift. Well you make them understand. It's the way life works. It takes 2 minutes to explain it and they get it. My son has never had a problem with not getting a gift at someone else's party because we took that time and he is truly grateful to receive a goodie bag if he does.
You can do something as simple as baking a cookie the theme of the party and bagging it with pretty curly ribbon and hand them out. I have done this for many parties and the kids love it. It's a nice gesture and the kids look forward to goody bags at the end of a party.
Last year when my son was 3, I went to the dollar store and bought some coloring books and crayons for all the kids. It cost me all of $2 per kid and the kids had something that they could use that wouldn't be thrown out right away. I will probably do the same thing this year too because it will be a different set of children.
Party Dos & Don'ts: Opening Presents
Every kid should be able to sit and watch another one open presents. Everyone has a birthday and will get a turn on theirs. We've never had a jealousy issue -- in fact, the ones who brought the presents can't wait for theirs to be opened. Then afterwards, they all play with the toys together. It teaches a lot of lessons for all the kids: patience, thankfulness, graciousness (if you don't really love the gift). It seems like such a small tradition, but a lot can be learned through the process.
For my son's 1st birthday we opened all his gifts (and there were tons). The children get so excited watching the presents they bought being opened. All I kept hearing was "that one's mine."
We don't open gifts at the party, and neither do our friends. It's different when the children are older, but with a lot of baby and preschool age kids together, the other kids just don't understand why they can't open presents, too. Some cry because they want a present; some will try to open presents that aren't theirs; etc. I also think it's great that it doesn't make the party about the gifts. It's about being together to celebrate! When I invite you to a birthday party, I don't expect a gift--I just want your company!
Part of a birthday party is opening presents! That's just what you do! A lot of people look forward to it.
I know people that don't open presents at parties. They do if for a good reason. Let's say that one child gives an awesome expensive gift, and another child has no money for a present so he wraps something of his own to give to a child. This way, no one else has to know and will spare the feelings of the child. It's all with good intentions. Also, you never know what your child is going to say when they open a gift. I think birthday parties are more for fun with your friends and family and not really about who gives what gift. I think opening them in private is a good idea.