Toddler birthday - who to invite?
March 28, 2014 1:08 PM   Subscribe

My daughter is almost three. For her birthday, I'd like to invite three or four kids. We are planning two organised activities (involving balloons and street crayons), but leaving it mostly unstructured for one or two hours, and with plenty of afternoon snacks.

The only really necessary invitee is the neighbour's daughter, who Toddler Nom gets along with like a house on fire and sees all the time.
Then there is a little boy from a mom and kid group we go to infrequently that she likes, who might be a good fit

The rest (kindergarten friends, for instance, or children of my friends) are all equally acquaintances but not really friends, since my daughter is introverted and tends to watch more than interact, especially with groups.

Should I just invite two kids whose mothers I like? One from each social circle, or should I try to keep them from one social circle? Is this even important for my kid, who I invite?

Her kindergarten teacher said maybe one of the quiet kids, like X or Y, but she doesn't seem particularly friendly with either of these.
posted by Omnomnom to Human Relations (18 answers total)
I remember reading somewhere that one guest per year of the kid's age is a good rough rule of thumb. I wish I could remember where so I could cite it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:14 PM on March 28, 2014

Birthday is supposed to be the best day of the year. Sounds like you already know exactly who to invite to make that happen for her. This birthday, you got this.
posted by otherchaz at 1:17 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

If what would make your daughter happiest is a day with no other children invited, that would be fine too, just so you know.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:19 PM on March 28, 2014

Response by poster: Sorry, just to make it clear, I will invite the first two children I've mentioned, but what about the other two?
I wouldn't mind having only two kids over, but Nom is tremendously fixated on the idea of birthday parties and all her books show her more invitees than that! I want to make it come true for her, since we skipped her 2nd birthday party due to illness.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:21 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

my daughter is introverted and tends to watch more than interact, especially with groups.

This seems like a really good reason to keep it to one or two close friends.

Nom is tremendously fixated on the idea of birthday parties

This seems like a really good reason to not keep it to one or two close friends.

I think maybe the answer here is to ask Nom what she would like.

We sort of went by the same rule of thumb The Underpants Monster mentions. At 3 and earlier our son wasn't in preschool yet so didn't have any friends other than our friends' kids, who weren't really his age; he wasn't too attached to the idea of a party anyway, so we tended to just invite our friends and their kids over for cake and it was all good. At age 4 we had the first 'real' birthday party; four guests was not quite enough people. By 5 we abandoned the rule of thumb and let him invite whoever he wanted from school (I think we wound up with seven or eight kids?)
posted by ook at 1:34 PM on March 28, 2014

Oh well then! Invite the other two, by all means.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:38 PM on March 28, 2014

Yep, another vote for the "one guest per year she is old" rule of thumb, which worked great for us. If it's a choice between 2 or 4, I'd go for 2.
posted by jbickers at 1:39 PM on March 28, 2014

Response by poster: Gosh I'm sorry, I'm really making a mess of this question: what I want to know is, given the fact that she doen't have particular attachments to any of the kids except the first two, does it matter who else I invite?

Should I just invite who I like? Is it good to have them know each other or can they just be random kids Nom gets along with?

Nom is no big help in choosing, she just names the person she saw last.

And yeah, we are doing birthday age plus 1.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:54 PM on March 28, 2014

At 3 you can definitely ask her. Find out if she wants a party with lots of people, or a party with the games and decorations, etc. Because either or both could be what she is picking on from the books.

I'd never heard of the 1 kid per year old, and that seems... silly to me. I usually invite our friends and their kids, whom my kids all know, and then a couple of friends from school. For my youngest (who just had his 2nd birthday) I invited 2 kids from school that I knew he hung out with because he was too young to tell me who he wanted. For my older son's last birthday (age 4) we invited around 3-4, plus our friends' kids, and he got to choose. At age 3 he got to give input and I guided his choices when he went off the rails based on who I had heard him talk about playing with a lot. We usually have a large age range of kids (last party had 3 months - 6 years) and everyone got along well.

I try not to invite just one person from a social group because I don't want them to feel awkward, but if you are only inviting 2 families then that likely wouldn't be so odd because everyone is the odd man out and you can easily facilitate conversation between them.
posted by katers890 at 2:00 PM on March 28, 2014

Well, if you're having to pick from a group of equally-ok kids, then go for rough gender parity, perhaps, or if you know any of the parents and like/don't like them, use that as your guide. It's ok to only invite one kid from a class; they're three. That is not the age at which they will care, and it's unlikely their parents will care unless you already hang out with them socially. And maybe not even then.
posted by emjaybee at 2:09 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the first few birthdays, we invited our friends with kids the same age. If we had been in a day care, we might have invited a friend or two at that age. During parallel play phases, our kids at least, didn't really interact with each other and doing birthday party birthday parties is sort of pointless. So my daughter's party wound up being us going somewhere she liked with food she liked, and people whom we spent our time with. Our daughter's second birthday had a lot of neighborhood kids her age and their older brothers since her older brother played with them (and we did it at a lakeside recreation area). She got to do the things she liked to do, occasionally she would play with her friends, and everyone had fun - since it was pretty much the parents we hung out with in the neighborhood and their kids.

My son's third birthday party was pretty non-eventful, that was also the families we described - but a slightly different set. And his fourth birthday was family only. By our son's fifth birthday, we invited the entire preschool class.

My daughter's third birthday will likely be a handful of her friends, or possibly a family only event. Her fourth birthday will likely be a lot more busy, so we're sort of gearing up more for that.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:12 PM on March 28, 2014

Having survived being the host of over 60 incredibly awesome (by my kids' accounts) birthday parties...

Not your question but OMG 2 HOURS of unstructured play time for a party is WAYYYY too long. That is a super long time for three year olds to get bored, hyper, cranky, punchy and throw up cake.

I would go with at least 3 organized activities, cake time, present time if you want to do that, then everyone goes home.

It's much better to have a shorter party planned than have to face a pack of crabby toddlers. Also, from my experience, ending a toddler birthday party can take an hour in itself.

Plan 2 hours for the whole shebang, TOPS.
posted by kinetic at 2:21 PM on March 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I did mean two hours for the whole thing!

Thanks for the wise advice. I'm starting to feel more on top of things.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:27 PM on March 28, 2014

I don't know about this one guest for every year old business. We've always just invited the whole daycare/preschool class and it's been totally fine, but that's also just what everyone seems to do around here. That said, you can do whatever you want - the first two are fine and so is adding the second two. From my perspective, you either invite the whole k class or none of them but I'm guessing that's not a big deal in your world.

However, be aware that no matter who you invite, chances are that 50% or so of them probably won't be able to make it (just based on my own history) so if you want to ensure at least a few kids, invite a couple more.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:29 PM on March 28, 2014

If it doesn't matter much to Toddler Nom, I would invite her Nextdoor Bestie and the children of your friends. If they are good friends, you will be friends for a long time and your kids will spend a lot more time in the future at other picnics and parties and events, even grow up with each other, so why not get them hanging out now? Plus because you know the parents you will be less stressed about entertaining both the kids AND the parents.

I also wouldn't invite just one child from her school class - Toddler Nom and Y will go to school and innocently talk about the fun they had at the party and then X wonders why she wasn't invited when Y was and there are hurt feelings. Worst case scenario, the parent gets pissed and your child gets instabanned from X's future parties. I only mention it because as a teacher, I've seen it and its sad to see people be so petty at a cost to the children.

Regardless of who you choose, I want to second kinetic and recommend that you provide more structure to the party: add games like musical chairs, hot potato or pin the A on the B. You don't want Toddler Nom to pair off with Nextdoor Bestie and unknowingly leave the other children who don't know each other out in the cold. By providing lots of structure, this won't have a chance to happen. Everyone is involved in everything!

If you go with children she already knows and parents you don't know so well, you don't need as much structure and can have a little bit of free play, but structure can be good here too because the same group dynamic happens with adults. If you are all involved in games with your children, the less you have to worry about making small talk with the other parents - and hoping they get along - while the children free play.

Don't feel you have to stick to a schedule though - follow the kids' lead. If they are having a blast at freeze dancing (which you totally HAVE to do!) and you won't have time for hot-potato, so what? Children don't like being herded from one thing to the next when they're still having fun. I hope these tips help you, I can tell you want this to be a super special day and Toddler Nom is lucky to have you. Just enjoy the day with her - she's going to have a blast no matter what!
posted by NoraCharles at 4:43 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Invite all four. At that age, chances are someone is going to be sick and/or have an inconvenient unscheduled nap and miss the party. Yay, Mommy! You rock! Your party is going to be wonderful! (When my kid turned three we blew up a lot of big plastic balls and let the kids go nuts in the backyard. No structure required, I promise you!)
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:22 PM on March 28, 2014

We just had our 3 year old's party -- a few hours ago. Four of five children invited were able to come. They were all between 2 and 3 years old. They happily played with my kid's toys and ate cake, while the parents chatted and looked after the kids. Serendipitously, the parents from different social circles actually had met some of the others, because they all had kids the same age. They left planning to meet for future playdates with each other. So my take -- no need for games or other formal activities for kids turning 3. I also think that they will not notice, or be able to clearly articulate it if they do notice, if you invite one kid from preschool and not others, at this age. Have fun!
posted by SandiBeech at 11:21 AM on March 29, 2014

My four year-old wanted one other kid at his birthday party. But kids that age are very accepting. Serve cake and candles, and tell her it's her birthday party - whether there's one guest or a dozen. She won't necessarily identify the rest of the event as being her party; she might think of it as a regular play date. And it basically is, you know. If you can keep kids her age focused on a social event for fifteen minutes you're doing very well.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:49 AM on March 30, 2014

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