Birthday celebrations contain multitudes. They aren’t just about the child and their birthday wishes. Birthdays are about parents as well. It’s the anniversary of when a parent became a parent, whether it’s for the first, second, or third time. It’s a milestone in a child’s lifetime, a moment to stop and look back, as well as a chance to celebrate the ‘right now.’ All of this, paired with parents’ love for their children and desire to celebrate them, are reasons why parents make a big deal out of birthdays and put so much care and thought into planning their child’s special day.

Of course, not every child is going to enjoy the hoopla of a big, exciting party. Parents need to consider their child’s age as well as their individual temperament, wishes, and needs before committing to any sort of birthday celebration for any given year. So, what should be considered?

Below, are a list of birthday party considerations for each age range.

Ages 1–3

  • These first few birthdays are so sweet and special. For at least the first two of them, keep it small with family and close friends or neighbors, maybe 5-12 people in total.
  • The third birthday is a bit of a tipping point and it's where you need to carefully consider your child’s temperament and comfort in larger groups. Do they respond well to noise, unpredictable excitement, structured or seated activities? Do they need to move around a lot? Think about how different what you are planning is from their day-to-day experience and from what they are comfortable with. Try to imagine your child in the party you are planning and think about whether they will enjoy it.
  • For these early birthdays, formal entertainment is not a necessity. Play areas and stations like sand and water tables and low mess crafts like dot markers are wonderful hands-on ways for young children to enjoy a party.
  • Consider nap time schedules and appropriate food for adults and kids, including low or no sugar options. Give thought to whether or not your child would enjoy being sung to and having all of the attention on them. If you think a larger group singing and clapping would be overwhelming for your child, you may want to save the singing for later with just you or your immediate family.
  • Be sure to have a clear start and end time with an activity that signifies the end of the party, such as handing out a small parting gift or goodie bag. It’s easy for these early parties to become all about the adults, so try to make sure the children remain the focus.

Ages 4–6

  • These are the years that it's best to try and invite your child’s whole class if you can. Kids at this age struggle to hold their tongues at school, especially when it comes to their big day. If some children within a class are invited and others are not, it can be difficult. Be as inclusive as possible.
  • Keep the party structured and keep it to two hours at the most, ninety minutes might even be better depending on the nature of the party.
  • While entertainers are appropriate for this age, consider children’s comfort levels and think beyond your child when selecting an entertainer. For example, some four-year-olds may find someone in a full costume scary. In addition, give parents a heads up so they can appropriately prepare their children for the entertainment.
  • Some, but not all, six-year-olds can handle a drop off party. Consider having an area farther away from the entertainment and main action where parents can mingle in sight of their children.
  • Consider your child’s sibling and how to make the party appropriate for them based on their age.
  • Keep in mind the allergy, sensory, or mobility needs of the children that are attending.
  • Some fun party ideas for this age include: a gym party, a magician, a person that brings animals for the children to see or touch, a children’s musician, a beach party, an ice-skating party, a party at a farm, a fire station party, a soccer party, and a class at a dance studio.
  • When it comes to party themes, activities do not always have to be “on theme.” Sure it’s nice if they line up, but a game of soccer or decorating cookies still works just fine if it’s a Star Wars themed party — no lightsabers required!
  • Keep the activities age appropriate. Just because you and your child may have recently begun exploring needle felting doesn’t mean that it's appropriate for all attendees, especially in a group format. Try to avoid activities that require partygoers to make something that looks a certain way. Instead, embrace individuality and stay attuned to each child's level of fine motor development.

Ages 7–9

  • This is the age to really incorporate your child’s interests and passions into their birthday party. Have a child that loves culinary ventures? Get a chef to come to your home to help you throw the world’s most delicious party, letting each child make their own pizza or build their own trail mix.
  • Parties at this age may be longer, but most children may not be ready for a sleepover. Instead, host a “sleep-under.” Sleep-undersare like sleepovers, but no one stays the night. Parents come and pick their pajama-clad children up after dinner and a movie, or dance party, or all three!
  • If you aren’t going to invite the whole class, have a talk with your child about discretion, and how they can’t discuss their party in school. If you know they aren’t up for this task, invite the whole class or keep it to only a few friends.
  • If you plan to host the party at a large open space like a water park or an indoor trampoline venue, ask for parent volunteers to help keep eyes on things, create meeting points, and have gathering times.

Other Tips and Thoughts

If you are unsure of what to do for your child’s upcoming birthday, ask your child’s teacher for suggestions. If they have been teaching children your child’s age for a while, they’ll likely have some ideas as to what has been popular. They’ll also know what your child enjoys and may have some suggestions based on their interest.

Piñatas can be tricky. Someone is often offended by the violent use of a bat or stick, and the new age pull-string piñatas often don’t work. If they do, kids may still bump heads, step on each other’s fingers, and not every child is happy with what they are able to grab.

Like piñatas, there’s usually an injury when it comes to bounce houses. If you decide to have one make sure to have a dedicated adult, be it a parent volunteer or hired professional, whose only job is to supervise the bounce house.

If you don’t want tons of toys, say “no gifts” on your invitation, but make sure to start this young as your child will not love the sudden change in gifting policy once they are old enough to recall previous years’ birthday gifts.

If you decide to give out party favors, be mindful of gender stereotyping. Not every girl loves a pink tea set as a parting gift. Keep gifts neutral, age appropriate, and the same for all genders.

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