How To Throw An Age-Appropriate Birthday Party

Planning birthday parties can be tricky! Here are some ideas on how to plan a birthday party based on your kiddo's age.

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As we get older, we may not have the same level of excitement for our own birthdays as we once did. But our kids’ birthdays? Now THOSE are a reason to celebrate. So many parents get a lot of joy out of planning birthday parties for their kiddos, and making their big day extra special. But it can also be tricky! Birthday parties are not one size fits all—what excites your school-aged child may completely overwhelm your toddler. And don’t even get us started on party planning for one year olds, who genuinely don’t even know it’s their birthday. 

No need to stress over it though—we’re here with some age appropriate birthday party ideas (and tips!) to make sure the only thing you experience during the process is joy. And a little melancholy, because let’s be honest, WHY DO THEY GET OLD SO FAST?!

First birthday

  • This one is really more about the parents. Congrats! You made it through the first year—you deserve a party for that accomplishment alone.
  • Your one year old probably doesn’t have a friend group yet, so feel free to keep this one adults-only (but other babies and kids are definitely welcome!).
  • Apps and drinks for adults are appropriate, but make sure to have some kid-friendly options for any younger guests (Little Spoon Smoothies and Plates are perfect for the occasion).
  • Keep it short—babies need naps and overstimulation is easy at this age. An hour, tops.
  • Don’t stress too much about the decor—again, the guest of honor won’t even notice. 
  • You can skip the formal and organized games, too. Having a safe play area set up for the tiny guests, and maybe some bubbles and music to entertain them, is more than enough.
  • Don’t forget the smash cake! This can be done after the party if preferred, but also makes for a VERY cute show for the adults in attendance. 

Ages 2-3

  • This is a great age to include other toddlers—friends from play groups, day care, etc. But keep in mind that too many toddlers can be incredibly chaotic, so keep the guest list small and manageable.
  • Keep the party between 60-90 minutes to prevent overstimulation and be mindful of nap times.
  • You can still skip organized games and activities, as their attention spans will make those difficult to execute. 
  • Instead, consider setting up play stations that the kids can cycle through—a water table, sand play, a block station, a mess-proofed finger painting station. This gives them the freedom to move about and lets them play around each other, rather than with each other. 
  • Kid-friendly snacks are a must, but keep it light! No need for a large spread, just some puffs, pouches, and fruit are a good start. Make sure the fruit is cut into kid-sized pieces, and keep it out of reach of small hands so eating is parent-controlled.
  • Definitely skip the gift opening and feel free to skip the cake + singing, too. Not all kiddos this age will be able to have cake, and keeping it out of sight/out of mind will prevent meltdowns. Same idea for gifts—2-year olds don’t understand gifting and receiving, and you’re sure to have some tears from small guests if they’re shown a cool new toy that they can’t touch.

Ages 4-5+

  • Your 4-5 year old most definitely has a favorite show/character/color, so this is a great year to introduce themes and decor. Keep the decor kid-friendly and inexpensive, as there’s a very good chance it will turn into play things. 
  • Organize 4-6 short and easy games or activities for the tiny humans, depending on the length of your party. Ideally, you’ll want one game every 20 minutes or so, to keep the kids occupied and help them direct their energy. Treasure hunts, musical chairs, pin the tail on the donkey, and outdoor carnival-type games (weather permitting) are all good options. 
  • At this age, you can include more food and drink options for kids, and even have a light lunch. Sandwiches, finger foods, and pizza are usually big hits.
  • The whole ‘song and candles’ tradition can also be integrated at this age. Consider cupcakes instead of a whole cake that needs to be cut, so every child gets an equal portion (in terms of size AND decoration). Meltdown, avoided.
  • If you’re going to do gift bags, keep the contents kid-friendly, like a little puzzle, book or bottle of bubbles. And give the bags directly to parents as they leave, so they can decide when to dole out the goods. 
  • Again, skip opening presents at the party itself. It can create unwanted drama (sharing is hard at this age, too!), and it takes time away from activities that all the kids can participate in, versus just the guest of honor.

The beauty of throwing a birthday party for your kids is that YOU are in charge of how it’s going to go—big or small, themed or casual, or even no party at all. But if you do decide to make this an annual huzzah, it doesn’t have to feel like planning a mini-wedding every year. Keep it easy, keep it stress-free, and most of all, keep it fun.

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