Parties for Toddlers?

Dr. Corinne Masur

To party or not, that is the question – especially when you have a 1 or 2 or 3 year old’s birthday approaching. Do little children enjoy parties? Or are the parties for the parents, desperate to get together with other grown-ups? Today I talked with a friend who had just held a St. Patrick’s Day party for 12 two year olds. She is newly pregnant and very tired, but she wanted to do something fun and she knows a secret. She said, simply, that the key to giving a party for toddlers is to expect NOTHING from them and to plan NO activities. She leaves out some musical instruments and some toys and provides snacks for the kids and for the moms and/or dads. The adults sit around chatting and watching the kids and…that’s it!

This, quite honestly, is brilliant advice. With all the projects and activities advised by overly ambitious mommyblogs, the simplest plan is the best: let the children play, keep them fed, and don’t overlap with nap time. Period. One and two year olds do not play much together. They cannot be expected to play much together. They can play NEXT to each other, and occasionally they will interact with each other – but more often, they will tussle over toys and need help with these struggles.

Whoever had the toy first should be allowed to keep it and the other child should be encouraged to try something else until the first one is finished with the toy. Sharing is not natural for the 1 or 2 year old. Territoriality is. Moreover, for the child whose house the party is given at, sharing all of his or her toys may be difficult.

This may take some getting used to. It may even take until the next party – or the next after that – to get used to the idea that other children come over and play with the toys that are usually his (or hers). Children ages 1 to 2.5 years old just should not be urged to share. They should not be told that is it’s “not nice” to hold onto a toy. If they had the toy first, they should be protected. This is a hard idea for parents to swallow. Often parents want to be “nice” to the other child and they are worried about being thought badly of by the other parents present. However, it is important to pay attention to what a child at a given age is capable of developmentally.

Developmentally speaking, small toddlers cannot share and urging them to will not end well. Three year olds can play together for a short while, and they can begin to share a little. But for them, too, the easy-going get together is best. And meltdowns? Expect a few. Most toddlers are easily overwhelmed – if the group is too big or too noisy for your particular child, pick him or her up, talk to him or her about what is going on and, if your child just doesn’t seem able to settle down, don’t be afraid to leave. Talk to your child about his or her feelings and about trying again sometime soon.

So, party on toddlers!!!!!!! Just do so at someone’s house in a low key way – no elaborate outings or entertainment necessary!

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