The following scenario may sound familiar to parents who have ever felt inspired to put on a spread that would make Martha Stewart proud. When my son turned 2, I made a special cake for his "teddy bear picnic" themed party—a carrot cake, made from scratch. Yes, I even shredded carrots for this cake, and to form the bear's body and appendages I called all shapes and sizes of cake and casserole pans into service. The night before my son's party, while struggling with the chore of piecing together and icing the bear, I promised myself that the next time I felt inspired to put a character cake on the menu I would head to the local bakery.
When it came time to present my masterpiece, the guests were instructed to ooh and ahh before I agreed to make the first cut. I'll admit that my homemade teddy bear cake looked and tasted mighty good, but I knew that the next year's version would be even more delicious to my well-rested palate because it would come from someone else's kitchen!
Keep It Simple
The moral of my story? Keep it simple. If you let your ambitions carry you away, you'll wind up stressed out, which will be apparent to your child. No fun! Plus, a toddler can feel overwhelmed and overstimulated in the midst of a lot of activity, so don't try to pack too much excitement into a party for toddler-age children. Ideally, keep things short, sweet, and uncomplicated.
There is no rule that a birthday party must include a three-ring circus. Let's face it, you can pretty much give a young child a slab of chocolate cake and have a satisfied party guest! Think of the event as a glorified play date that just happens to include cake, ice cream, and a few decorations. For older toddlers or preschoolers, you might want to provide an age-appropriate craft, project, or activity. But I've found that even children of this age tend to be perfectly content with unstructured play, ignoring the agenda in favor of extra time in the sand box.
If you want to decorate for the party, keep in mind that little children are delighted by simple theme parties. Decide on a favorite theme (a character, type of animal, color, trucks, princesses, etc.) and go with it. Invitations, plates, cups, and a party favor or two are all you need to coordinate your party and make it fun.
Some parents have a knack for throwing fun and easy children's parties in their own homes. Yet for others, keeping a party low-stress means taking the celebration to a children's restaurant or indoor play area where all they need to supply is the birthday child, cake, and a check. A neighborhood park is another good party destination as long as there's a "Plan B" in the event of bad weather. Consider checking with the park administration about reserving a pavilion, if that's an option.
The best time for a party is when your child is the happiest and has the most energy. This usually means well before naptime or just after a nap. With some thoughtful scheduling, you are more likely to have a happy, energetic little host ready to party with his well-rested guests. And with luck, you'll avoid infamous toddler meltdowns!