Your Child’s First Birthday Party

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By Julia Rosien

For many parents, a child’s first birthday heralds the end of babyhood and the beginning of toddlerhood. A walking, talking little person ready to explore the world takes the place of midnight feedings and T-shirts caked in spit-up. It’s momentous.

Your baby probably won’t remember anything about the event, but why not celebrate the first birthday with a party the whole family will treasure? It’s a great way to mark how far you’ve come in only a year.

Who to Invite

Limit the number of youngsters when planning your child’s first party. “If a child is one, there shouldn’t be any more than one other child his age,” says Phyllis Cambria of Party Plans Plus in south Florida, and co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Throwing a Great Party.” Limit the number of children to the age of the child. Too many children may overwhelm your birthday star and take away from his “specialness.”

Relatives and special adults in your child’s life will want to join in the celebration, but too much attention may make her cranky and you tense. “Give her a day that’s special and focus on just her,” Cambria says. “Instead of sending invitations to all your relatives, mail a booklet of photos a week after the party.” If relatives do come, keep it simple and order food in advance.

“With our first child we had a huge party and invited both sides of the family,” says Steve Miller of Ontario. “By the fourth baby we held many little parties scattered over a couple of weeks. It didn’t overwhelm the birthday child as much and was a great way to build self-esteem.” Miller’s children enjoyed smaller parties with fewer packages to open.

What Kind of Party?

Cambria suggests building the party theme around things that interest your child. “If he likes trains, do a train theme,” she says. Make trains out of boxes and let him be the engineer. Or let him be ringmaster at the circus by using animal cracker boxes. Build cages for stuffed animals by cutting holes in the sides of boxes. Use ropes or ribbon to make the bars and put his stuffed animals inside. Create a fish party with goldfish crackers, fish plates and a fishing bucket with magnets and washers. Make a fish cake using licorice for the mouth and candies for eyes, and put fins on your paper plates.Make a train cake using a few loaf tins flipped upside down after baking and arranged in a line. Ice each one a different color and link together with Oreo cookies. Let baby help out by placing the candies on the cake after you’ve iced it. It won’t be perfect to adult eyes, but he’ll love it. And the time you spent making it will be the best gift you can give him. “My wife loved baking with the kids,” Miller says. “I think our guests were a little leery eating something a toddler helped to prepare, but that didn’t matter as much as seeing the pride on a little face.”

If you’re pressed for time, take advantage of the many party packages available in stores. If your child loves Franklin the Turtle or Blues Clues, buy a party package she’ll enjoy. “Our first child loved Ernie and Bert,” Miller says. “We bought a huge cake that he immediately hugged.” Miller’s oldest child was delighted to discover his best friends tasted great.

Be careful of thrusting kids into an unfamiliar situation. Kathleen Purcell of Missouri arranged for a clown to visit her daughter’s party. Mommies held children on their laps, and everyone awaited the clown’s arrival. “He peeked around the corner, and carefully stepped into the room with his huge feet,” she says. “As he offered the first mommy a flower, her child burst into a high-pitched wail. In seconds the whole room was in full-wail mode.” The clown beat a hasty retreat and Purcell learned that one-year-olds might not like clowns.

“Make it fun and don’t stress about what you should be doing,” Cambria says. “Your child will be happiest when you’re relaxed and having fun, too.” First birthdays only come once. Make it perfect for your child, not for the guests attending.

Instead of a Party…

Instead of hosting a party, you might do something meaningful he’ll be reminded of his whole life. “Plant a tree in your yard or a relative’s yard,” Cambria says. “Or plant it at a park where your child can visit his special tree.” As your child grows, so will the tree, and you can take pictures each year to mark his birthday. Some cities have commemorative walkways, and you can buy a brick with your child’s name and date of birth on it. The money often goes to charity, so you’ll be doing two great things at once.

Whether or not you host a party, be certain to do something your child enjoys. It’s meant to be a fun day for the toddler-to-be, and a day of reflection for parents. The year went by quickly, and a birthday is a reason to celebrate all the milestones that have taken place since that little person entered your life just one year ago.

Perfect Party Planning

  • Keep the menu simple. Don’t plan to serve any sweets other than cake. Excess sugar combined with the excitement overstimulates kids.
  • Suggest simple presents that don’t require assembly. Ask guests to look for educational toys that are age appropriate.
  • Don’t force anyone to wear a party hat, especially your birthday child. Be mindful of balloons and put broken ones in the garbage right away. Choking on a balloon can happen within seconds.
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