Plan the best birthday party for toddlers, tweens and teens


Few childhood milestones spark more parental anxiety than birthday celebrations. These days, more than cake and ice cream is at stake: According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, parents fork over an average of $370 per party just for the venue, and total spending can easily top $500. Add the pressure of a once-in-a-lifetime event — your baby only turns 5 once — and the stress piles on. Whether party planning makes you swoon or sweat, it’s possible to plan a party that both you and your child will enjoy. Here are some ways you can keep the “happy” in your child’s birthday, from the first party all the way through the teen years.


Ages 1-5
Petite Parties

For babies and tots, parents are free to select the party theme (since your little one probably can’t weigh in) and design the guest list to suit the party venue. A common mistake: going overboard inviting the entire pre-K class, and creating a gigantic, noisy shindig that overwhelms the birthday child, says Grace L.P. Beason, owner and lead event planner for Grace Leisure Events in Durham. “For preschoolers, I’ve found that it works well to keep the number of kids down to really close friends and siblings, rather than inviting the entire class. The party can get huge once you include all the parents.” When it comes to party size, take your cue from the season. Winter parties are often indoors, so the cold months are perfect for smaller parties with indoor activities like crafts and games, while warmer months are ideal for the-more-the-merrier parties at parks and other outdoor locales.

Ages 6-12
Manners Mashup

The birthday party scene picks up steam in elementary school; young school-agers commonly invite the entire class, so it’s not uncommon for a child to be invited to more than one party per weekend. This can lead to some party etiquette pitfalls, says Lori Losee, owner of Elegant Affairs in Puyallup, Wash. When guests are invited to so many parties, overwhelmed parents often fail to reply on time or at all. “This is my biggest pet peeve,” says Losee. “Also, not bringing a card or gift unless specified by party host not to bring one, or bringing uninvited siblings to parties.” Grade school usually signals the start of drop-off parties, Losee says. Just make sure you check with party hosts about whether you’re expected to stay or go, and to find out what time the party ends. Always pick your child up on time; party hosts are usually beat afterward and nobody wants to wrangle an unexpected party straggler.

Ages 13-18
Creative Craze

The teen years can be an awkward birthday phase for parents since older kids may balk at the themed parties they enjoyed in grade school, or reject parents’ party ideas outright. But it’s still possible to plan something festive, even if teens don’t want a traditional party, Beason says. Get creative. “Why not try and get some great concert tickets to a local band (for teens or tweens, with parents escorting), rent a private room at a fun Mexican place and have a fiesta with a piñata and dancing, or learn to make ice cream at a local ice-cream parlor. Explore your local business community.” For inspiration, draw on your teen’s favorite pastimes. Activity-based parties —cooking, jewelry-making, science/technology/engineering/math (STEM), or hiking — are trending, and make it easy to dream up a festive, memorable fete that even a too-cool teen will enjoy.

Malia Jacobson is a nationally published sleep and health journalist and mom of three.

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