Regardless of what your early 20s held, you'd better buckle your seatbelts for a new era of partying: the two-year-old birthday party. These revelers are looking for hands-on fun, and they're leaving it all on the dance floor. Keep reading as we dive deep into the best way to throw (and manage) an epic two-year-old bash.
How Many Kids Should I Invite?
Anecdotally, the number of guests invited to a child's birthday party should hover in the vicinity of the number of years your birthday kid is turning. However, if you're going to the trouble of setting up a party, only inviting two guests can be anticlimactic.
Real Mom Advice: Worry less about the number of kids and more about the behaviors of kids. Invite groups that already know one another, because it's easier to get the party started—and avoid the toddler panic over who gets to play with what—if the group has had some interaction before. Dance class buddies, playground pals and neighborhood kids all work nicely.
Should I Limit Gifts?
This is a hot topic in parenting circles, so go with your gut. If you know your birthday child is already getting a billion gifts from grandparents, maybe going the no-gift route is right for you. Or perhaps your party is the extent of your favorite two-year-old's birthday celebration. In that case, gifts could be great—especially if your guest list is on the shorter side. Or, request each guest bring a book and fill up your bookshelf instead!
Real Mom Advice: At two, your little one's toy box might be filling up. Now's a good time to pack up some of those rattles and rollers to save for the next child, or pass them on to a younger cousin or friend.
How Long Should It Last?
Since they bring the intensity, a two-year-old party should be short and sweet. An hour and a half of activity, rounded out by cake, and you're set.
Real Mom Advice: Two-year-olds have trouble with transitions, so be sure to motivate them to move through the party without tears by building up to better and better experiences. Start slow, add some excitement, corral them with cake and send them out the door with an exciting-looking party favor.
What Time of Day Works Best?
You're still squarely in the world of nappers at this stage, so pick a time when your birthday toddler is at their best. Do they get grumpy after a nap? Plan the party for the morning. Will it ruin their day to miss a favorite cartoon in the morning? Plan it for the afternoon. Whatever you decide, make the timing work for your guest of honor.
Real Mom Advice: You'll always have reasons to structure your day around someone else's convenience. Grandparents who like to sleep late, sibling soccer games and college sports schedules come to mind. But do yourself a solid and plan the party to maximize your child's enjoyment. It'll be better for everyone in the long run.
Where Should I Have It?
Pandemic partying has its own set of constraints, but your main consideration here will obviously be safety. While everyone has their own comfort level with who, where and how you interact with those outside your regular footprint, a two-year-old party is incredibly well-suited to pandemic gatherings. They're small, they work best outside and they're short. Win, win, win.
Real Mom Advice: Playgrounds and backyards—or neighborhood coves, if you have them—make for excellent party spots for your budding two-year-old. Think of it as a field day. You'll be setting up stations, so you need some space, but you'll want to create a "hive" of activity in one central location.
Do I Need a Theme?
Whether it's a toga party in college or a Paw Patrol affair for your birthday kid, themes can be solid party boosters. And since two-year-olds love playing dress up, wearing their finest theme-gear can add a lot of excitement to the soiree. But if you don't have time to take things to the next level, don't sweat it. At this point, a theme is definitely extra.
Real Mom Advice: Not naming names, but we know someone who had a football-themed second birthday party because it was November and the parents' favorite team was playing. Bad. Idea. Luckily, I... I mean, the mom, remembered she had a bubble machine and saved a spiraling party that was clearly not focused on the birthday kid.
What Do We Do?
If you're going the outdoor route, nothing beats sensory tables for a two-year-old party. Kinetic sand, real sand, flour tables (add water and spoons and you can turn it into a dough table) and shaving cream can get the party started. For a craft, homemade drum sets with balloons and rubber bands over an empty can and make-your-own sensory Ziploc bags work well. For a more active group, playing simple games like "the floor is lava" or trying to keep the balloon off the ground is a solid choice.
Real Mom Advice: If you're going with a theme, you can tie it in to each station, even if it means printing out a matching sign and taping it to the table. And don't forget the bubbles. A bubble machine will rock your world.
Do I Make a Cake?
Does a fish need a bicycle? Of course not, but it's really cool! Cakes, cupcakes, cake pops.... it's a birthday, y'all! If you're a baker, there's no group more forgiving of a baking flop than a bunch of two-year-olds. Of course, purchasing is always a sweet option, and you get the best portion control—and less of a sugar high—with cake pops.
Real Mom Advice: Save the treat for the end of the party for maximum enjoyment. Also, if you're looking to go the route of gluten-free, sugar-free or any other free, give your bakery a call at least a week out so you're not scrambling to make something work at the last minute.
What Do I Feed People?
Two-year-old's parties are generally not drop-off parties, which means you're going to also be hosting a handful of adults. Don't go overboard on catering to the adults, but it's a nice gesture to fill a cooler with more adult-type beverages—sparkling waters, sodas, or beer and wine, if you're inclined—just to keep everyone hydrated. For the kids, set out bowls (or individual baggies) of their favorite fruit, veggie or salty snacks and juice boxes or individual bottles of water. Steer clear of candy and sweets on the snack table, as you'll be loading them up when it's time to blow out the candles.
Real Mom Advice: At two, many kids with peanut allergies don't even realize they have them yet. Play it safe and stay away from anything that might reveal a food allergy.
What About Favors?
Yes, favors for the win. Don't go overboard, but a festive-looking package at the exit gate will guarantee an easy send-off.
Real Mom Advice: Slap bracelets, bouncy balls, bubbles and sticker books are always winners. If you want to step it up a notch, personalized sippy cups are cute. At this stage, it's less about what's in the package than it is about how fun the package looks to the kids when you're passing them out. And for heaven's sake, skip anything that's a noise maker like a whistle, PLEASE.
How Do I Make It Stop?
Cue the exit music, start a conga line and head toward the party favor station (and the awaiting minivans).
Real Mom Advice: Putting an end time on the invitation may seem weird, but it'll make sure everyone is on the same page, and it will save you from the awkward goodbye.
What About the After-Party?
Don't give in to the urge to have a private family party immediately after the party with guests ends. Shut. It. Down. Make time for maybe a book or possibly a cartoon, then nap time—if that works with your timing. You and your two-year-old are going to need to chillax. Save the after-party for after your next sleep block.