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Kylie McConville

How To Plan A Second-Birthday Party

You made it through baby’s first birthday, but this year, the pressure’s on. Baby’s two, he’s on the move and he and his friends are completely unpredictable. Here’s how to plan this fete with as few tantrums and meltdowns (we’re talking about the toddlers and about you) as possible.

When to throw it

“Pick a date that works for you and your baby,” says Linda Kaye, founder of Linda Kaye’s Birthdaybakers Partymakers. In other words, instead of sending out a mass email to all your potential party guests asking what day works for them, do it on your own schedule — the date that stresses you out the least, really. Weekends are usually best because you’ll have time to clean and prep. And more guests are usually able to make it on a Saturday or Sunday.

“Pick a time that your child’s most likely to enjoy the party,” Kaye says. “Typically, when kids are this age, they have the most energy in the morning.” Don’t worry about the other kids’ naptimes. There just isn’t a way to plan around them all. And err on the shorter side for this age group — parties that last too long can be overwhelming and you’re probably asking for total chaos if you keep it longer than two hours.

Who and how many to invite

Don’t feel like you need to invite every kid from your tot’s daycare. “The guest list should just be made up of the children and adults that you and your toddler know,” Kaye suggests, “Planning a more intimate celebration will keep him from feeling overwhelmed and shy. He’ll be less likely to feel uncomfortable and more likely to have fun.” Skip the coworkers and your friends from book club. This should be about your child’s inner circle, the people he’s most comfortable with.

And that’s probably even fewer people than you’re thinking. Kate Landers, Children’s Event Planner and Stylist has a rule of thumb for number of invitees: “Add two to your child’s age,” she says, “and that will tell you how many kids to invite.” So, really four guests is plenty for your two-year-old to have fun but not so many it gets crazy. (The bonus? You won’t spend a fortune on games, treats and favors.)

The best venue

Torn between having a party at home or another venue? Either works. “There’s no rule that says you have to have the party at your home, but if it works for you, then do it,” says Kaye. House parties tend to be more budget-friendly, of course.

The backyard is a great place to party, but have a backup plan for moving the bash indoors in case of rain. If it’s your living room or playroom, “designate an area and childproof it,” says Kaye. “Make sure there are no small, potential choking hazards that your guests will pick up and play with.”

“If you do decide to go outside of the home, keep in mind that you’re usually buying into some kind of party package, which can get expensive,” Kaye says. “But if there’s a kids’ gym she goes to and loves, sometimes it’s easier to have the party there.”

Just know that getting too creative with the venue could backfire. “At age two, kids feel safest at places they’ve already been to,” points out Kaye, “There’s anxiety when they walk into a place they’ve never been before.”

Choosing a theme

At this age, theme matters more to the parents than it does to baby — but regardless, it’s important. “You want to base the party around something,” says Kaye. So how do you choose? Pick her favorite character — whether it’s Dora or Barney. Or choose a theme that involves both parents and kids, like Draw Something or Candyland since little guests aren’t totally independent yet. “Drawing together or even playing games together are great ways to get the parents involved and make sure the kids are having fun,” she says.

Here’s an easy idea: “Music always works great for this age group too,” Kaye says, “because it’s popular and the kids can move around. Take some pots and pans out for the kids to play around with — they’ll love making music!”

Make a budget and DIY

To stay on budget, make a must-haves list. Let these be the things you know you can’t have the party without (like a cake, games and small favors), and then go from there.

And don’t stress yourself out trying to make a ton of decorations. “Custom banners and paper goods always go a long way for kids,” says Kaye. “They’re easy to make at home or even buy at the store — and they won’t cost you a fortune.”

Even the sweets themselves — colorful cupcakes or cookies with sprinkles — can act as décor if you make them the centerpiece of the table. However you decorate, beware of anything a toddler could choke on. For example, balloons can be dangerous for two-year-olds, unless they’re out of reach.

Food to serve

Kaye says the golden rule for planning snacks is this: “Easy to eat, easy to pick up and anything they can eat with their hands off of a small plate.” Sticking to finger foods makes the party toddler-centric and also prevents any unnecessary accidents with utensils (scary!). “If any of your guests have allergies, parents will most likely tell you about them ahead of time,” says Kaye. But if you’re nervous, you can always ask. “As a general rule — since there are so many of these allergies — stay away from nuts,” she warns.

Wait until the end of the party to serve up the sweets. That way, kids get healthier foods in the beginning. Plus, cake is usually the signal that it’s the bash is almost over. Sending everyone home post-sugar is probably a good idea for your sanity too.

Perfect party favors

It’s pretty customary to send kids home with favors, big or small. “At this age, it’s better to just give one thing instead of a bunch of little things,” says Kaye. “In the past, we’ve done bath toys for kids and even books — sometimes books with stuffed animals attached.” Think about what kids in this age group tends to love (you have one, so it shouldn’t be too hard), check the suggested age range on the toy packaging to make sure it’s recommended for two year olds, and we’re sure you’ll make an awesome pick.

Plus, More from The Bump:

50 Best Birthday Cake Ideas

Insanely Easy Birthday Party Ideas

Birthday Ideas on a Budget



PHOTO: iStockphoto/Getty