Your precious child is turning two! What a landmark occasion. Surely you’ll want to throw a party for him and invite half the neighborhood! But before you start looking for a clown to hire, or a circus pony to rent, think about what you would like your child to gain from this experience.
Why We Celebrate Birthdays
There are many ways to answer that question, and how you answer it may affect how you celebrate. For some, birthdays are believed to bring good fortune. For others, it is a time to reflect upon God’s goodness. Still others consider birthdays a time of rebirth, growth and transformation. For some parents, the birthday party is nothing more than an expense and a chore, something to be endured. For others, the birthday party is a chance to outshine the neighbors, to have the best birthday party celebration that everyone will be talking about for months. For wise parents, though, a child’s birthday is a chance to celebrate his life, to affirm him as a valued member of the family, and to demonstrate their unconditional love for him. They hope to create happy memories and strengthen family ties. If this is what you want for your child, then you don’t even have to invite guests at all – you can do quite nicely with just the immediate family!
How Many Guests to Invite
If you have limited resources, or multiple children, you might set up a family tradition of celebrating the “even” years with playmates and the “odd” years with family only. As for the number of children, don’t invite too many. For a two year old, two little guests is plenty. Remember that two-year-olds do not really play together. They “parallel” play. Two or three two-year-olds may play in the same sandbox with the same sand toys, but they are not really interacting at the same level that three or four-year-olds will. This is normal. Two-year-olds may bite, hit, kick, throw sand, or take toys from another child – which is embarrassing for the parents, but is entirely normal behavior for two-year-olds. If you have too many little guests, it will be stressful for all of the children. Your little one will not feel loved and treasured, but may very well spend the day in tears.
When to Hold the Party
Consider your child’s daily schedule. Two–year–olds usually take an afternoon nap, so late morning or early evening would be a good time for the party. If your child’s birthday falls on a week day, he isn’t going to realize the difference if you move the celebration to a weekend, if it would be easier for family or friends to attend then. Try not to change your child’s routine on his birthday. If you hold the party when he usually sleeps, he will be cranky.
The Party Schedule
Your party should follow a basic plan. You will want to have a simple activity for when the guests arrive. Then a few games, followed by food, cake, ice cream, then the presents, then departure. You can add or subtract from this basic plan, but remember to keep it fairly simple. The goal is to focus on your child and make it a special memory for him, not to impress the neighbors with an elaborate and expensive shindig.
Good Arrival Activities
A two–year–old will only focus on an activity for about fifteen minutes. That’s the extent of the average two–year–old’s attention span. If the activity is boring, he will focus only a few seconds. If it is fantastic, he may last sixteen or seventeen minutes, but rarely will he play with the same toy for twenty minutes or more. Unfortunately, many parents today do not know how to read a clock, or they lack the respect to show up on time for your child’s birthday party. Here again, your party will go more smoothly if you invite fewer guests.
An arrival activity is something the children can do while you wait for the rest of the guests to arrive. You might set out large sheets of blank paper, and thick bright crayons. Encourage the two–year–olds and their parents to color together. Another arrival activity might be playdough. Set out large lumps of home–made playdough, rolling pins, cookie cutters, and measuring cups and spoons, even some toy dishes, and encourage the children and their parents to prepare a make–believe feast.
Games for Two Year Olds
Two–year–old children are too young to understand rules, competition, winning and losing. Any game you play with them, change the rules so there are no winners and losers. If you want to play musical chairs – have a chair for every child! Do not remove the chairs until there are none. Wait until your child is four or five before playing that form of the game. If you play Candyland, do not end the game when the first person has finished (unless it is your child and only the two of you are playing). If two children are playing, continue the game, allowing the second child to reach the end of the game as well. If you are playing Memory, do not stress that one child found three pairs, while the other child found six pairs – celebrate that they both had fun and shuffle the cards to play again.
Foods for Two–Year–Olds
Two-year-old children prefer finger foods. Fix something that is bright and colorful. Prepare it simply. Generally, the young child would rather have sliced tomatoes than cooked tomato sauce with spices. He would prefer to have cubes of fresh cheese than melted, cooked cheese sauce or dip. He generally prefers plain, basic foods rather than hot dishes and casseroles. On the plus side, plain, basic food is cheaper, healthier, and easier to prepare. For your party, plan a wide variety of foods, since you do not know what your little guests will eat. Also add foods you know your child loves. It’s his party! Do have a sit–down meal, rather than a buffet. The young child will sit and eat if you sit and eat. He does not understand the concept of grazing, and may be more likely to choke if he isn’t sitting at a table.
Cake and Ice Cream
Although I do not encourage sugar for young children, I’m not neurotic about it. Every child should have a birthday cake! It’s tradition! If your child is wheat allergic, you might try making one with rice flour. If you want to push nutrition, you can make a carrot cake. However, keep the serving size small, and do not add too much food coloring to the frosting. If you order a cake, choose pastel frostings. Red food coloring often stains teeth, clothing, carpeting, and doesn’t even taste very good! A popular way to make birthday cake for a young child is to pour a small amount of cake batter into the bottom of ice cream cones. Bake, then put a scoop of ice cream on the top of the cone – no frosting is required!
How Many Gifts You Should Buy
It is also traditional to give presents at a birthday party, but don’t overdo it! One or two gifts is plenty. More than that and the child can become overwhelmed. That goes for Christmas gifts as well. I have met many parents who really did not know what to buy their three–year–old, because they gave him everything when he was two! That’s just silly. Young children will play with the box most toys come in for longer than they will play with the toy. When choosing toys for your child, look for quality. It is better to buy one or two sturdy, quality toys than a hundred pieces of cheap plastic junk. Look for basic, traditional toys that encourage creativity, imagination, develop gross motor skills, fine motor skills, or language skills. Do not look for electronic toys. These do not help the toddler or preschool child develop anything important.
Great Toys for Two–Year–Olds
- A sandbox – the biggest your budget or backyard can afford
- A tricycle (pink or red)
- A large ball
- A baby doll
- Dress–up clothes
- Sand toys, including pails, shovels, trucks, measuring cups and spoons
- Wooden puzzles, about 7 to 12 pieces. The ones with sound are double the fun for the child.
- A small splash pool (supervised at all times)
- Blocks. Hardwood unit blocks are best. Plastic Duplo blocks are an acceptable alternative.
- Playdough– home–made is best!
- Art materials (supervised)
- A Picture book
- A toy drum
Toys NOT to give a two–year–old
Do not give him a bicycle. Few toddlers have the balance or coordination to enjoy it, and he will quickly outgrow it. A good tricycle has an adjustable seat and handlebar – he can use it for three to four years.
Do not give battery–powered toys. Children have active imaginations. Encourage that! The more the TOY does, the less the child has to do. A basic, unpowered toy will amuse the child for years. A battery–powered toy becomes boring before the first set of batteries die. The only exception to this rule would be a battery–powered flashlight toy for him to sleep with, if he is afraid of the dark.
Do not give workbooks, pencils, activity sheets, or pre–reading materials. Young children are all slightly far–sighted. Requiring them to do prolonged reading activities will cause eye strain and may damage the eyes. If you insist on pushing reading games and activities, do it less than ten minutes a day, and then have the child do something outside to rest his eyes. Do not go from reading games to television viewing. If you buy flashcards or magnetic alphabet letters, get the largest size you can.
Do not give him a television. The young child needs to be exploring his world. He needs to run, climb, crawl, swing, jump, bang, splash, pound, swing, skip, wiggle, sing, shout, whisper, imagine, and run some more. He does not need to sit passively watching inane television programming with dubious educational benefits. There is some professional research that suggests a link between television viewing in young children and autism.
Do not give him a battery–powered riding toy. This is wrong for so many reasons! They are very expensive. That money would be much better spent on a sandbox and a swing set, or a complete set of hardwood unit blocks. Again with the batteries – the powered riding toy does not require the young child to use and develop his muscles, or his imagination. And these toys can be very dangerous.
Do not give him foam puzzles or toys. These toys might be fine for an older child, but every two year old I’ve ever met had chewed on the foam, breaking off chunks that could pose a choking hazard. The foam pieces just look so yummy! Stick with hardwood puzzles. The best ones are from Melissa & Doug, and have sound added– yes, there is a battery in them, too, but the sound actually encourages the child to play with the puzzle longer than a silent puzzle. Be forewarned, though! You may prefer a silent puzzle!
If you follow these simple guidelines, you and your child may have a truly memorable event. Don’t forget your camera! Take pictures and put them in a scrapbook to share with your child throughout the year. It will remind him how much you love him, and help him develop good memories.
Here are three different parties all planned for you.