The first birthday party for a baby is a nostalgic milestone, especially for new parents. You get excited for all those cute and messy cake photos and primped-up birthday baby shots, but parents are often caught off guard when their child wants nothing to do with any of the fun.
And who can blame them. There’s a crowd of people around. The birthday song is loud. And the color, size, and texture of the cake is perplexing, not to mention that the lit candle on top of it can feel scary to an infant.
We forget that all the festivities, decorations, and crowds at a birthday party are unfamiliar, and often overstimulating, for a one-year-old who has no idea what the fuss is about.
Here are some tips to help you and your baby prepare for a fun first birthday (minus the tears).
Before the Big Day
- Stick to your routine on the day of the party. If you know your child is typically grumpy at 4 p.m., that’s not the time to schedule the party. Christina Arnold, a mother of two and owner of the Denver-based party company, Party Has Arrived, suggests scheduling the birthday party after naptime for a greater chance of a happier kiddo.
- Introduce some of the party decorations—such as balloons or noisemakers—a few days before the party. This gives your children a chance to familiarize themselves with the party atmosphere. Point out the colors and textures and read the party banners to them.
- Playfully sing the birthday song to your child in the week leading up to the party. Sing it in the car, while on a walk, or in the bathtub.
- As one-year-olds begin to communicate more, it’s fun for them to see pictures and learn new words. Share board books or photos about birthday parties and name items that will be at the party like balloons, cake, and gifts.
- Give them a little cake for dessert before the big day so they have time to get used to the textures, colors, and taste of the cake. “Order a smash cake just for your baby. This will allow your little one to dig in and have fun while photos are being taken without ruining the cake for the entire party,” says Arnold.
- On your party invitations, ask guests to skip wrapping any gifts they bring. Have a table to display the presents with cards attached. This way, you’ll spend less time unwrapping and more time playing with the birthday baby. As an added bonus, everyone gets to see what was given.
On Party Day
- Choose a comfortable birthday outfit for the party. Avoid tight fitting and itchy clothes, which can further agitate a child on the verge of a breakdown.
- Parties with kids of any age are hectic, and special moments may pass before pictures can be snapped. Take a few pictures before the party starts to ensure that you capture the special day before things get busy.
- Simplify cake cleanup by spreading a washable vinyl tablecloth or picnic blanket on the floor under the highchair. Some parents set the birthday boy or girl in a kiddie pool, which can be rinsed off outside and reused on hot summer days.
- Ask a friend or family member to take pictures or help cut the cake during the party. This keeps the party moving even if you must stop and comfort your child, and means you’ll be in some of the photos, too.
- If some gifts are wrapped, select one of the older kids to help open them. Your child may be more interested in the wrapping paper than the gifts anyway. Roll with it.
With a little planning, you and your child can enjoy that once-in-a-lifetime first birthday party. Relax, have fun, and enjoy the day. You’ve earned it. By their second birthday, your child will begin to catch on and enjoy the festivities and traditions even more.