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Your Guide to Toddler Birthday Party Etiquette

Toddler, Dog, and Birthday Cake

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Do you remember kid birthday parties your parents organized when you were really little?

Many people have probably completely forgotten about them. But if you are among those with a good memory, you probably remember that these parties were more for adults than you–from party games to party food, these probably weren’t for YOU. 

Indeed, there were presents, goody bags, usually some baby things, birthday cake, and songs, but most of the items were organized more for the pleasure of your parent’s guests. 

In the past, people just assumed that toddlers were still too young to understand the importance of socializing. Thus, our parents didn’t give much attention to how kids’ felt about the party.

Now, however, we know better. The importance of socialization for toddlers can’t be overstated.

So how hard can it be to organize or prepare for a party for a toddler? You need snacks and cakes, some music and entertainment, and that’s about it, right?! 

Well, how can we put this? The answer is both YES and NO!

Here’s the deal. Whether you are hosting a party or your toddler is invited to one, there is a certain toddler birthday party etiquette that is helpful for everyone if followed. 

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Feeling Overwhelmed by the Idea of A Toddler Birthday Party?

You’re not alone!

After hearing that there’s a certain etiquette to toddler birthday parties, some parents feel overwhelmed and recoil from the idea of party planning.

They feel overwhelmed by the idea that they not only have to PLAN the party, but they also have to think also about social codes for a bunch of two and three-year-olds

But there is no need to stress about it because it sounds more challenging than it actually is. 

To help you understand better and get a grip on toddler birthday party ideas, we created this article. Take a deep breath and let us help!

Preparing for a Toddler Birthday Party

You might think that preparing for a toddler’s birthday party involves a ton of late nights on Pinterest and multiple trips to Party City, and you’re probably right!

But thinking through the etiquette involved is also a good idea. 

For instance:

  • who should you invite?
  • what kind of food should you prepare?
  • what kind of gifts should be given?
  • should your child dress up?
  • should this be a theme party?
  • when should kids open presents?
Toddler looks at cake
Toddler birthday parties should be meaningful, not overwhelming!

Should You Invite All the Kids from the Class?

If you are organizing a birthday celebration for your kid, you must be asking yourself this question! 

Well, technically, you can invite all the kids from your toddler’s class, but you should be aware that having 25 toddlers, high on sugar, running around your house won’t be such a fun experience. 

Rather than focusing on what is polite, concentrate on what is good both for you and your kids.

Many organizations that work with children will tell you that it is not necessary to invite every kid from your son’s or daughter’s class. 

If you need guidance on how to choose guests, you can apply the proven formula – invite the same number of children as your kid’s age. 

But if you opt for this solution, the best thing is to send invitations via email to avoid only passing out a few in-person and raising questions from other children and their parents.

Should I Invite Every Child Who Invited My Kid to Their Party? 

Well, not really. 

If you want to and have the budget, go for it.

But if you have any kind of limitations in terms of space, money, or anything else, and need to shorten the guest list, do not hesitate. 

In this case, you can think about some criteria to decide on how to make a list. You can invite your kid’s best friends, children from the neighborhood, or cousins if you have family in your area.

Basically, spend some time thinking about who your child really enjoys spending time with and go from there.

What Kind of Food do I Need to Prepare? 

When you are organizing a great party, you also have to think about toddler food. 

Whether you are preparing food yourself with paper plates and homemade party treats, or you opt for a catering service, there are several questions you need to be able to answer. 

Things that children enjoy eating are often not good for them, and most kids, as you probably know, don’t want to even come near healthy foods. 

So, you need to be super creative and find a way to combine nutrition in a way that is also delicious. No problem, right? Ha!

Consider fruits and veggies; healthy sandwiches; and baked snacks. Consider this great list of healthy party snacks from Clean Eating with Kids!

You’ll also want to be sure that you avoid foods that are choking hazards for toddlers, such as whole grapes, popcorn, chunks of cheese and nuts, and hard or sticky candy. 

Food allergies are also a vital factor to consider when you are organizing a toddler party.

Make sure to contact every parent of the child who is invited to learn about potential allergies and intolerances and plan the menu accordingly.

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How Much Should You Spend on a Birthday Gift for a Toddler? 

If your child is invited to a toddler party, you have to think about the appropriate gift that any kid will love. Consider giving a gift that gives back or choose from the best books for babies!

Many people often wonder about the amount of money they should spend when buying a gift for a child. 

What is essential to know is that it is the attention and care that counts the most, not the price of the gift. 

Even if you are on a tight budget, you can find something meaningful for the child in question. 

Keep in mind that you can have your child make something for the child, and/or contact the parents and offer to make something for the party if you are not able to afford a gift at the time.  

How do I Choose My Kid’s Clothes for a Party?

Yes, we know that you love to dress your precious kids in their fanciest clothes. And yes, they are adorable in their adult-like suits and frilly party dresses. 

But, think about it – it’s a toddler birthday party, not a cocktail soiree!

They are going to be running around all day long with snacks and juice in their little hands. Do you want their toddler party dresses and pants to end up in dumpster because of stains and tears? 

It is much better to dress them in simple clothes that are simple to wash.

In fact, try letting your child pick out clothes with colors and patterns that they enjoy. And it’s always fun to have your child’s clothes match the theme of the party (if they’re into that).

Should I Host a Theme Party? 

If you have energy, time, and budget, by all means, do it. 

Kids will be thrilled if you organize a party inspired by Daniel Tiger or Cocomelon or any other cartoon or movie they like.

You can try Amazon or any other large retailer for plenty of decorations for your themed party, and most themed party decor is reasonably priced and available quickly through Amazon Prime or Etsy.

Astronaut themed birthday display
Try creating a theme based on your child’s interest for their birthday.

When is the Best Time to Open Presents?

This is something many people wonder! 

Kids are thrilled about getting presents and are eager to open them as soon as they get them. But should they unwrap their gifts right there at the party, or wait until all the guests leave?

We prefer letting the kids open their gifts one-by-one at small parties and waiting to open after the party for larger ones.

Make sure you wait until after everyone has eaten and has settled down before starting the present frenzy. You’ll also want to make sure that you (or another parent) writes down what each child brings so that your little one (or you, let’s be honest) can write a thank you note.

We love small parties and allowing children to open gifts one at a time.

This teaches them to appreciate each one and show gratitude. Besides that, the guests will enjoy seeing the happiness on your child’s face! 

On the other hand, there is a risk that some presets will be so attractive that all kids there will want to play with them at the same time.

But that’s life with toddlers, and above all, what matters most is that everyone goes with the flow.

How Long Should a Toddler Birthday Party Last?

There’s no hard and fast rule about the length of birthday parties, but we suggest holding a party that only lasts a couple of hours.

This will give guests time to come and eat a bite or two and watch your child open presents if you choose to do so.

Toddlers have short attention spans and the capacity for some pretty major tantrums, so keeping it short and sweet is your best bet for keeping both parents and toddlers happy.

Also, be sure to time your party after a nap so your child will have the best opportunity to enjoy themselves!

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Going With the Flow: Toddler Birthday Parties Shouldn’t Overwhelm YOU 

From the moment our kids start to socialize, birthday parties take on an important place in their lives (and ours!). 

Thus, toddler birthday etiquette is not something we should take lightly, BUT it doesn’t have to run your life, mama!

Keep in mind that your child will enjoy the photos and memories. Their party doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive; it simply has to be meaningful. 

What have we missed? Do you ideas for organizing or attending a toddler birthday party?

Rachel Burns is an experienced copywriter and photographer with a design diploma. She works with startups, entrepreneurs, bloggers, and companies from around the world. In addition to writing articles and promotional materials, she enjoys hiking, reading, cooking, and spending time with her family.  

When I first told my mom the title of this blog, she looked at me incredulously and said, “Why undefining? Why not redefining?”

“Because motherhood is a role that’s been defined for far too many centuries,” I say. “And often not even by mothers themselves. It’s been prescribed and defined and changed and redefined so much that I don’t understand how anyone can feel authentic in their experience of it anymore. Not to co-opt another movement that’s happening right now, but time’s up. It’s time to learn to do this authentically, not according to prescription. For years, I’ve studied the history and theory of how motherhood has been defined, prescribed, turned into an institution with a set of rules. And I’m sick of it. It’s time to put that knowledge into action.”

“It’s perfect,” she replied.

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