Tips for easier toddler parties!

It happens every year, without fail — your little ray of sunshine’s birthday! It’s a momentous occasion, and it needs to be commemorated. But how? 

In the baby/early toddler years, I would argue that your child’s birthday celebrations can be more focused on you, the parent. After all, they’re tiny — it’s not like they’re going to remember that painstakingly planned Paw Patrol theme party or the elaborate rainbow-layered unicorn cake you spent an entire day assembling. 

Therefore, I urge you to be a little selfish when it comes to planning birthday parties for very small children. Are you an introverted sort? A cozy celebration at home with immediate family is perfectly sufficient. Miss your pre-baby social life? Reserve a corner table on the patio at the Black Forest Inn and invite all those friends you haven’t seen in two years. 


Of course, planning a party for a child forces you to consider factors that were probably never an issue in your pre-parenthood life. For example, inopportune nap times most likely didn’t prevent any of your friends from attending your dinner parties in your child-free years. Now, you might be surprised just how many parents decline your invites due to sleep-schedule complexities. 

But first: How long should a toddler party last? What day of the week is best? What time of day is “safest?” 

A toddler party doesn’t need to be long; maybe two hours, tops. It probably has to happen on a weekend, because no parent in their right mind is going to haul their antsy 3-year-old to a late-afternoon party on a Tuesday. And as for the time of day, that’s up for debate. I’m a fan of 1–3 p.m. — it gives you time to prepare, it’s after lunch and it doesn’t bleed into the early evening time of toddler insanity. 

However, it’s also prime nap time for many little kids. So you might try 10 a.m.–noon, depending on your guests. Push it any later, and you’re going to feel the pressure to provide something resembling lunch. 


Home-based parties are ideal for the toddler set. It’s fairly easy to keep them contained in the living room/fenced-in yard/basement playroom, giving the parents a bit of a break. The downside (at least for people like me) is that you have to clean your house. 

Off-site locations like parks or neighborhood rec centers are other low-key options. A playground provides the necessary entertainment; add some snacks and cake and you’re done. Or for a small-ish fee, you can rent space in a rec center, an arrangement that often includes some kid-friendly activities or gym space for running your squad of manic toddlers. 

“Destination” parties (trampoline parks, museums and other major-attraction venues) can be amazing for the right kids, but they’re generally wasted on the toddler demographic. At their worst, they impose greatly on the parents: With kids too young to be left to their own devices, the parents must follow them around a loud, crowded space and then drag them away screaming at a preordained time to sit in a windowless room to eat pizza that tastes like cardboard. Also, you’ll probably get roped into plenty of destination parties as your children get older, so you might as well avoid them while you can. 


Want to keep your toddlers occupied and also create some good photo ops? Try a yarn “spider web.”

If you have six kids, get six different colors of yarn. Find some prizes (perhaps irritating slide whistles?), tie them to the end of each piece of yarn and hide them somewhere in your chosen room. Then take the yarn and weave it around the room (twist around door knobs, chair legs) and perhaps attach a plastic spider to the other end of the yarn. 

Repeat with all the other colors, creating a “spider web.”

When the kids arrive, assign each of them a color. Then explain that their goal is to untangle their piece of the web to find their prize. Trust me, this can keep them occupied for a long time. In the meantime, take this opportunity to offer your adult guests a cup of coffee or a bloody Mary and talk about all the preposterous kid parties you’re not hosting.    

Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to