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First birthday — Good Parenting


ThinkstockPhotos 509233351Dear Dr. Debbie,

We are nearing our son’s first birthday and are planning a party for friends and family. His few “friends” are five children belonging to some close friends of ours and neighbors. I’ve been getting the impression that kids’ birthday parties have become a lot more extravagant than what my siblings and I had, but still would like this to be something that two sleep-deprived parents can manage on a modest budget.

Almost Twelve Months


Don’t miss last week’s column Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts — Good Parenting

Dear ATM,

Congratulations on rounding your first year of parenting! A birthday celebration is a great way to savor the moment with the people who are important in your son’s life. I agree, there is no need to go overboard, overextending your limited energy and other resources, but you can make it a day to happily look forward to and to happily look back on. Your friends and family members may welcome your asking for help with food and entertainment in lieu of clothes and toys that will soon be outgrown. Others will pounce on an opportunity to lavish your son with darling outfits and the latest educational toys. Between “too little” and “too much” attention for a child’s birthday party is the sincere acknowledgement that he is loved. The most important factor is to do whatever will mark the occasion as a joyous one for the guest of honor, his parents, and the invited guests.

Guest List
Who must be included on your guest list? This will help determine the rest of the decisions. Consider the ages of all your guests. If the majority of guests are adults – as is typical of a first birthday – then tip your plans in their direction. If any guests are elderly, you must consider how they will get around without stepping on toys or children. The children’s ages will help determine the best way to assure they have a good time as well. Babies not yet walking are happiest in close proximity to their parents. Toddlers, too, need close attention. So your party area needs to have adult seating as well as floor space for the children. Preschoolers can manage craft activities and a cooperative game, which could be in a nearby area, but if there are only two or three children this age, the craft and game should include adult participation. Any school-age child or children will appreciate a special role in honoring the Birthday Boy, since they are “so much older.” This could be decorating his high chair with ribbon, starting the Happy Birthday song, and or passing presents to him and assisting as needed to open them.

A home birthday party requires preparation and clean-up. Your resources may allow for professional help with this, otherwise the task is up to you. Among the advantages to having the party at home is that your son needn’t be awakened from a nap to get somewhere on time. You can do any prep work in the days ahead – setting up crafts, games, and seating – and take your time about putting the house back in order. On the other hand, a park, recreation center, or any of the many businesses in this area that cater to children’s birthday parties could be the answer, if not this year, then for future birthdays. They’ll set up and clean up around the built-in entertainment. Some even take care of sending out invitations, tracking r.s.v.p.’s, and preparing the food for you. For a range of ideas for venues, check out Chesapeake Family Magazine’s list.

A one-year-old is easily overwhelmed, so tone down the entertainment. He will be excited enough to be in the company of more than just his parents. If it seems appropriate for the other guests, provide an activity yourself or hire a professional for: music, magic, animals, art, cooking, games, story time, or a seasonal activity. A winter party might include snowman making. A spring party might include planting seeds in cups to take home. A summer party might include playing in the sprinkler. A fall party might include stuffing a scarecrow.
A great gift to suggest would be to have someone take lots of photos. Or splurge on a professional for this. Guests will enjoy a memento of the good time they had and your son will have a reminder of how special he and his birthday have been to you since the day he arrived.

A good party has good food. If entertainment cooking is your forte, then show your stuff. If not, accept offers from friends and family to pitch in with their own specialties. Keep in mind that this year’s guest list, and probably next year as well, will mostly be adults. You can explore clever and crafty children’s foods when your son and his friends are old enough to appreciate the effort. Little ones are just plain thirsty when they are thirsty and hungry when they are hungry. Check with parents if you are not sure about their children’s allergies and sensitivities. Most parents of very young children are used to packing food whenever they leave home, so you’ll do everyone a favor if you discuss their children’s food needs ahead of time.

Keeping everything within reason will make your planning process as enjoyable as the party.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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