54 answers

How to Throw a 3 Year Old a Birthday Party?

I don't know how to throw my daughter her 3 year party (October 25th). The last two years have been close family only, and I was fine with that. But since my B-day in mid-August, Arden is running around singing happy birthday to herself almost every day...the time has come. Thing is, all of the 1,2,and 3 year old parties I've attended have been for both parents and kids (and I mean BOTH parents). These are typically held in the late afternoon/eve, and invlove lots of alcohol, the guys gathering to themselves, and the moms taking care of the kids while they drink. This I don't want, nor the burden of trying to plan a party for everybody. What happened to the kids party? I have many friends and extended family with kids, and don't know how to go small or large. This is keeping me awake at night!!!I don't want something over the top (inflatable castle, zoo, etc), at the end of October it should be inside, has anyone done a brunch? But what about the guys then? Dad's are (however reluctantly)coming to everything from baby showers to all B-days? My mom thinks this is crazy and recommended doing a party mid-day, mid-week to which I responded: every mom I know save me and one other works full time! Any suggestions?

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WOW...what a wonderful and abundant gift of advice!! I think we have decided on a Saturday brunch (10-12:00a.m.) with a pumpkin patch in our backyard. Parents will be welcome, and the pumpkins will take care of the party favors, and activities (kids can hunt for them and then draw on them w/markers, or parents can help carve), plus some pin-the tail on the donkey (or scarecrow;). Time of day will help with drinking issues, and even if it is raining, a little time in the backyard will do noone any harm...although it will require cleanup. I'm feeling very relieved and so grateful to everyone for the the overwhelming response. I read every one, and garnered something from each. I'll let you know how it goes :) Thanks, K.

Featured Answers

My mom's old rule of thumb is that the number of kids should equal the kid's age, so for a three-year party, there should be three kids invited. This may actually simplify things a lot right away.

We had my sons party last year (his second) and we are planning on for this year (also late October) at a farm - super easy, relatively inexpensive...a few crafts, which they provide, pick a pumpkin and some apples, and cake...easy and fun. Both parents and kids are invited, light snacks will be provided. Goodie bag can be as simple as the fruits that they pick, usually farms have petting zoo areas...

First, you can have any type of party you want. I would have a mid morning party with no more than six kids at that age if you have an inside party. That will give you an excuse to not serve alcohol. You could hire a clown, but some kids are afraid of clowns at that age, or a story teller as somethings special and then have a book to take home. Kid's parties at that age should be simple and not overwhelming. Not to much sugar or noise. A treat to take home. Good luck.

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Start with her favorite story character. Then expand on that. Like if her favorite is Tinkerbell, then decorate with Tinkerbell and fairy stuff and spin the games into that theme. Send out invitations with Tinkerbell on them to give the idea that it is a children's party and the theme is Tinkerbell. Some parents even take that as a clue to bring a Tinkerbell or fairy themed gift.

Make sandwiches and cut them into strips about 1/2 in wide for easy 3 year old handling. Make a few different kinds, like peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, turkey. Get some chips and a veggie tray, fruit tray, etc...

Play pin the magic wand on the fairy and try to get it in her hand, or something like that. Or variate other games. Get some bubbles and let the kids blow bubbles and take pictures of them chasing them. This might be better outside if possible. Or have the grownups blow bubbles onto the kids and they can catch them.

Play ring around the rosey. And before they get up sing:
Cows are in the meadow
Eating buttercups
Flowers, flowers
We all stand up!

Play keep the balloon up with parent/child teams but the child has to hit it before the parent can hit it a third time in a row.

Have fun!

1 mom found this helpful

I think a brunch sounds fantastic!

You can make planet pancakes (with several bowls of batter, all with different food coloring to swirl the colors), or mouse pancakes, or heart pancakes super easily.

You could have Belgian waffles with different fruits to poke in the holes. (kids to do themselves) [If you don't have one, you can get a professional grade belgian waffle maker...the kind that flips over that they have in hotels...for about $50-$75 @ Amazon & cooking stores. I only mention this because our waring-pro has turned into a weekend tradition and has lasted for years.]

If no one's jewish or muslim you could do bacon and egg smiles.

You can have "whoosh cream"...ahem...canned whipped cream. I have yet to meet a toddler (or teenager for that matter!)yet who wasn't absolutely enchanted by the magic of them...and hey, it's a birthday party!! A little non-healthy food is expected. Plus, if you have pancakes or waffles you can write the child's initial on them, or a crown with that same "whoosh cream".

You could do french toast.

You could have hot chocolates.

You could make it a "wear your pajama's" brunch.

You could have lots of coffee for the grownups. :)

You could have sugar pumpkins to paint as an activity.

You could have facepainting (word to the wise, just one cheek)

You could...oh my....what an excellent idea!!! There are just so many things you could do! (Can you tell I have incredibly fond memories of brunches from my childhood?) I'd never thought of it for a birthday party, or know anyone who's done it and it sounds WONDERFUL! In fact I may just co-opt the idea of a birthday brunch for my son's next party.

One thing to note...Soccer season is on. It may not affect/effect the people you'll be inviting, but if anyone has older kids you may want to check before you decide on saturday or sunday...Soccer season means SUPER BUSY saturday mornings for those with (4year olds and up) kids involved.



We have a very large extended family/friend network, & I know exactly what you mean about kids' parties with alcohol present. Theoretically it goes like this with the many many I've been to: Kid's Party, Bedtime (aka movies and sleeping bags & giggling), Adult's party.

Even though the kids usually have a great time, because they get the added bonus of a mini-sleepover afterwards...I personally can't pull it off; it's waaaaaaaay too much work & stress for me to have two parties in one day. I PERSONALLY want my son's birthday to be all about him. HOWEVER, the screams of anguish and hurt feelings could be heard around the world if I excluded everyone. So, while I'm not recommending it's what you do, what we did was to split the days. We have my son's party one day, and then a BBQ (summer b-day) the NEXT night. It's potluck, and casual. All the adults who weren't there the day before get a chance to bring presents, congregate, & generally hangout...but we don't do cake, and presents are opened when people arrive, not at a set time all together.

Good Luck to you! And remember it's your house, your daughter, and your mommy's day/her birthday. Have fun, and have it the way you want it. If there are 3 candles to blow out, your daughter will love it. And if you're not all stressed out by having a kind of party you don't want...well, we all know how much better we are at parenting when we're not pulling out our hair.



1 mom found this helpful

Wow, this sounds out of control. With two children ages 2 and 3 1/2, we have been to A LOT of kid bday parties but not once has there been alcohol served, or anything else like what you have described.

First of all, however, you need to know that at this age there is really no way to avoid having parents attend. However, you can align their expectations so that they understand this this is children's party and not an adult "par-TAY." Do not have a brunch or a dinner or anything like that!

This means 1)mid-morning or mid-afternoon; 2)invite only her friends, but assume that parents will come; 3) send out invitations that are very kid-like; 4) specify on the invitation what the activities will be (see below), so that the parents get the message that this is designed for children; 5) serve only kid snacks, cupcakes and juice -- no alcohol!

If you must include family, then hopefully you can talk to the family members and explain that now that your daughter is 3 you think it is time to make her party be more appropriate for children. Or else do not invite family members, and ask if one of them would like to host a separate "family-only" celebration for your daughter.

As far as activities, you can do things that are fun for the kids but not necessarily over the top. For instance, if you want to do it at your house (inside or outside), you can set up a big table with lots of pre-packaged crafts that you get at Michael's and parents can help their children with them. Or for a fairly reasonable cost, you can schedule a puppet show (such as Penny's Puppets -- google her website). Kids love this. OR... since her birthday is so close to Halloween, have a Halloween bday party and ask ALL guests to come in costume, and play some fun halloween games (there are tons of websites that give age-appropriate ideas for halloween parties). If you insist that parents come in costume, I guarantee that this will cut down dramatically on the number of dads that will come!

But if you really want to send the message that this is for kids, it might be worth it to have the party away from your house, at a kid-oriented venue. For still a fairly low cost you can have parties at the Portland Parks community centers (SW Community Center is a good one) or "Out of this World" with pizza and cupcakes and activities. You could still do a Halloween theme, too.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Hi K.,
Well, there are some wonderful ideas here (and I will be adopting some of these for future parties - Thanks everyone!). I just have a comment on the adults who attend. On your invitation, you could put in tiny print on the bottom that it is a "children's party". Most parents should know that that means no adult beverages. On my son's 3rd and my daughter's 1st this year, we noted to everyone that it was a children's party so there was to be no alcohol. Everyone understood. If they dont and show up thinking they will have libations, well, wont they be surprised!! :-)
Enjoy! L.

My son just turned 3 this past June and I have a 7 year old daughter also. For both of their 3rd birthdays, I held it from 10am-12noon on a Saturday and the invitations were addressed to the kids only. Of course, at 3 the moms stayed too, but the snacks and juice were kid snacks and juices. We never had more that 5 kids come (6 kids if you count the birthday child). And it was low keyed, we just let the kids play, with structure.

We actually had to bring my son's birthday party inside because of rain. SO I went to the local applicance store, picked up 3 big boxes and we made a Mickey Mouse Club House that my 2 kids colored on. My husband cut out a door and some windows and I attached a few streamers to it. The kids loved it!!!!!

Simple and low key and they got cake and ice cream for lunch (they loved that!!!).


PS - I'm not opposed to alcohol, I have a drink or too at parties also, but NEVER at a kids party. That is just wrong, in my mind.

I hear you K.. Birthday parties for our little ones have become outrageously expensive, especially when both parents come and you have to feed everyone. Here's an idea I have if you want to keep it small and without alcohol: a mother/daughter tea party. If you specify moms/daughters only, I can't imagine that dads will want to come. It's your daughter's party, not theirs and you have a right to keep the guests to a minimum. Make it REALLY girly and ask the little girls wear their favorite dress, set up flowers all over with little teapots and cupcakes. As for timing, I suggest either 10 - 11:30 am or 3:00 -4:30. Specificy an end time so you don't have to feed everyone lunch or dinner. There's nothing wrong with this and honestly, as a parent of a three year old, I would not be offended, knowing how expensive parties cost.

We just hosted my son's 3rd birthday at our home. We had the party at noon on a Sunday and served a simple, fall meal. (several different types of chili, cornbread, homemade mac&cheese, salad) We had a play area set up in our livingroom with music (the kids danced on their own), toys, etc. We also spilled out into the yard and had sidewalk chalk, bubbles and balls for the kids to play with. We had a pinata, which was fun. The cooler was full of juice, water, and some beer. I also made wine available in the kitchen. Since it was mid-day on a Sunday, most people just had one beer or glass of wine and everything was very sweet, innocent, and fun! The adults chatted and the kids played. It was also quite affordable. Hints: Marie Calendar's corn bread mix, white chicken chili mix (by the taco seasoning), and Costco!

I agree with you on time. I work full time and know that I could never make it to an afternoon weekday party. First, in your invitation make it a timed party. Usually 2 hours. Second tell them what it will entail. Punch and cake with sweet treats. At that age I had a cupcake decorating party and then had a couple of games. When the children first arrived I had pens and a huge Happy Birthday banner they could make a picture on for the Birthday child while everyone is arriving. Big piece of butcher paper,$1 store paper board or something she can hang on her wall for about a year. The ideas are endless. Once parents know what to expect at the party then there are no excuses that they should think it will be more than that. You are allowed to provide coffee and water or punch for the parents, but that is all. They can have cake too. Most parties I had were just after lunch, which I know is nap time for most, but you could include a lunch party and have small finger sandwiches. Just let the parents know on the invitation. It is not up to you to adapt the parents. This is a party for children not grownups. Good luck. I'm sure it will go fine.

When it comes to 3 year old's and parties - the simpler the better. Kids just love simple things like balloons and candles to blow out. Dress up play is always a hit with my kids - even now that my son is 13! We have a giant box of stuff that we've collected over the years and it's the one thing that every child who comes to my house plays with. Last year a retired air force pilot from my church gave us a few of his flight suits - my boys won't stop wearing them! A 3 year old girl would just love to put on jewlery, hats, high heeled shoes, scarves, etc.

Hi K. - We just finished throwing my son his 3 year old party last weekend. It rained the whole time! lol.
I am going to be the other side of the coin here, because I read what the other mother's wrote and I feel opposite than they do. I have four brother's, my parents, my brother's wives, and about 5 friends who all have kids. We also had some friends that have been friends of ours for years, as well as my son's godparents. Needless to say, we were packed! But a party is to celebrate your child, and our friends, even the ones that don't have kids, love to come and see how the kids are growing (and not just our kids, but the other ones they have gotten to know) and talk and chat and just have a good time. We are not drinkers, so I make it very clear that I will provide a minimal amount of booze (24 pack of beer) and if they feel like they need more, to bring their own. We had 2 pinatas, and then just let the kids run around and play with each other while the adults conversed. The kids left with full bellies (we provided dinner (carne asada, chicken, beans, fruit, cake) as well as the parents, candy from the pinata, and had 3 hours of play with their friends. I would never do a drop off party with my son at that age, he is too young, and I appreciate it when there are other parents there to break up any "issues" the children may have.
That being said....my girlfriend has a son who is turning 5 and she is doing a pumpkin patch party! I am so jeleous, and it is such a great idea. I don't know if you have any pumpkin patches near you, but she is just paying $50 for the party room, and then $8 per kid (which includes the hay loft play area, petting zoo, one pumpkin, and hay ride). It's outdoors, fun, and healthier than Chuck E Cheese or McDOnalds playspace, and I think it's a great idea!
Good Luck to you, L.
Also, we have some friends that could drink an amazing amount of alcohol if they so chose. But, I think they would be embarassed to be publicly drunk in front of children. We have NEVER had anyone drunk at our parties, and if we did I would ask them to leave. Remind your guests that it's a children's party, so they need to slow down on the booze!

Well, it isn't an adult B-day party so I don't see the issue with having an afternoon party. I always have had afternoon parites for my son and I make them two hours long. How about a pizza party at Chuck E Cheese or just your favorite pizza place. They always have rooms for parties. The pizza parties I have been to have been big successes. McDonald play room parties are a good idea too as someone else mentioned. Otherwise just do a simple party at your house in the middle of the afternoon on a weekend.

You have a lot of great suggestions, including telling people it's a kid's party, so no alcohol. Every party that I've done at our house for our kids has always been at 2:00 on a weekend (usually Saturday). This saves you from serving lunch or dinner and avoids a lot of conflicts, including alcohol. Also, I put an end time on the invitation (2 hours is plenty).

For my daughter's 5th birthday, I bought a music game at Toys R Us called "Hullaballoo", which is like Musical Chairs, only with colored vinyl shapes. I played this during arrival, which kept my daughter and her friends entertained until the party started. Once everyone was there, we did a foam photo frame craft, decorated goodie bags (I give them paper lunch bags, washable markers, and stickers), and a Pull-String Pinata. Then it was on to birthday gifts, song, cake, and goodbyes.

I also have a blow-up Pin the Tail on the Donkey game that I got at Party City. It was $20, but it is the cloth kind that has a motor to keep it blown up. His back-end is a bulls-eye and he stands about 2-1/2 feet tall. The tails are hook-and-loop and have numbers on them. It is so cute and the kids have a ball!

When it comes to opening gifts, I have each child sit with their gift in a circle. Then, I have the Birthday kid go to each child and open that gift while sitting together. I get a picture of them together, along with the gift. It really makes Thank You cards super easy, as long as you can remember the kids' names. I do keep a list of gifts, too. Then I print these pictures out and send them in the thank you card.

For other game suggestions, you can do Bingo when she gets older. I do it themed for a specific character. Scooby, Ariel, Sponge(Bob Squarepants). I make my own Bingo cards and EVERYone is a winner with me. Each letter/number combination that they mark gets a prize (pencil, eraser, piece of gum, etc.) and then when they get Bingo (they spell their character's name in a line), they get a big prize. I set up bags with the corresponding letter on it along with the Big prize bag. The kids love this and it takes up a bit of time if you have more than a couple kids around.

I disagree with your mom. While I am also a stay-at-home Mom, most everyone I know works, too, so mid-day, mid-week is just not an option. Best of luck to you and keep us informed!

Keep it simple! If you want this to be for your daughter, it is for her, NOT ALL THE ADULTS WHO WOULD LOVE TO BE DRINKING. Pick a theme...let her help you pick it out...just to to target the party store and pick out a theme, plates, decorations, etc. maybe a goodie bag for the kids. Have cake and ice cream, maybe some fruit punch, and a few activities for the kids. It can be on a weekend. I've never heard of a party mid-week. That's rediculous. Just make sure to have enough cake and ice cream for the parents also. Bottom line, this is a party for your daughter and her friends so they should be the ones having fun. Don't worry about entertaining the adults. That is for another day and another party. Besides, your daughter won't care if the adults are having fun, she will care about whether she is having fun.

You've had lots of responses with lots of different ideas, but my advice is to do what YOU want to do! Don't stress about the guys. Trust me, most of them would rather NOT attend unless they are very close with you. I don't think you have to plan for everyone, you plan for your family. This party should have what you want. I do think the mid-week, mid-day party would be hard. If you want to avoid the alcohol, I think you have a brunch or early afternoon time. Like 11-1 or 1-3. My personal opinion is that if you choose 11-1, you need to serve more than cake and ice cream since it's lunch time. You can keep lunch simple though...I've seen lots of ideas for that on the responses. Another good option is some Papa Murphys pizzas. I've done those a few times and have also been to parties where they are served and they seem to go over well. They are easy to cook and reasonably priced especially since kids usually just like cheese! If you do more of a 1-3 then I don't think providing more than some light snacks is necessary. If you don't want alcohol, don't serve it. I know what you are saying...I noticed a lot of moms haven't been to a kids party where there is alcohol, I have but those are ones that are typically later in the day or early evening.

Good luck and remember to plan this party for your daughter...not anyone else! I hope you have a great time!

While none of the kid parties we've been to have been as you described, many have involved both parents, some have involved alcohol (especially if its outdoors, like a bbq), and I agree, it can get burdensome to host. The previous poster had some great ideas for you. Here are a couple more that came to mind for how you can get the party you want:

- invite only your daughters few favorite friends (3 or 4 max) therefore when they come with their parents and siblings it's still a manageable sized group (we did this for my daughter's 2nd bday)
- on the invitations ask that the child and ONE parent attend, that way it's more child-focused and less about the adults (a friend of mine is doing this for her son's 2nd bday soon)
- if you invite only friends where you know the child and parents well, I think it is feasible to do a "drop-off" party at 3. My son was invited to one when he was just barely 3 and the child who's birthday it was was turning 4. The kids had a great time, and the mom reported to me that it was much easier on her to plan/host than having all the kids with all their families.
- hold the party at a child-centered venue, like Chuck E Cheese, a bouncy house, or something along those lines - I was amazed how much fun my son had at a Chuck E Cheese party and it was super easy for the mom!
- do it on Saturday mid-morning, I have noticed those are the least attended by "the guys" as they are usually trying to get projects done around the house and yard at that time and are happy to let their wife take the kids out of their way. Afternoon/evening parties tend to attract more dads as they are also looking to get out and socialize and don't want to be left home alone.

Good luck, I know it can be a tough one! We have tons of friends with kids our kids ages and are invited to soooo many parties - many that are mostly just opportunities for the parents to socialize while the kids run around. Can be fun, can be just plain crazy. Some of the other moms have started voicing their desire to do smaller, more kid-centered parties and so I bet your friends are likely feeling the same way. You can start a new trend!

I know you don't want to spend a ton, but you can take the kiddos to the Superjump or 321 Bounce. Weekdays are always cheaper - the parties are usually 1.5-2 hours (that includes cake and snack time). You don't have to clean anything up and no one is at your house. I've been to a couple parties there and they are fun.

I don't know if this is corny or not, but some of the bigger mcdonalds with play places also do parties and you can get happy meals for the kiddos and let them play in the play area for one cost. they also do cake time.

Don't worry about the adults (guys), it's not about them. It's about what you want to do for your daughter. Kids parties are just that, for the kids.

I would do a "drop off" party on a Saturday morning like 11:30-1:00 or something like that. And try to invite her friends closer to her age and not all the older kids/cousins. This means you have the parents drop them off and they do not stay! Unless you wanted a little help...you cold enlist a couple moms to stay. But what I did for my 3 year old was have a playdough table, and some other toys out to play with. They truly will play and occup themselves. Then you could do pin the tail on the donkey, or a pinata, it is pretty comical doing those things with 3 year olds! Then serve some PB&J sandwiches cut in quarters, and some grapes....or some other toddler friendly food. Then end it with presents/cake. It will all go by so fast. In any case, I would just have your daughter pick some invites, and send invites only to those who are in her friend circle...you don't need to invite everybody! Good luck to you!

You are really a smart cookie to question the ''norm''- this should be fun for HER and enjoyable for you and your husband. So -- party where she feels like a star is really easy--- Saturday late morning -- at your house or check out a recreational center that may have a birthday party room - my best tip?? Keep her expectations simple now so that when she's 12 you don't feel you have to hire a band to ''meet the standards'' -- a few little children that she enjoys- a few gifts - and she'll have a blast --- it will be totally super for her- and not an ordeal for you-.

Many blessings,

One thing I would say is this is your daughters party tell everyone no alcohol. If they do not like it it is not you or your daughter who is hurt. We have had luck with outdoor partys at a park. You do not have to clean your house. I do not know the weather there and it does not have to be a theme park. Have the party earlier in the day around 2. Maybe set a picnic theme to it. This was a lot of fun for my boys and thier friends. I have two boys that share the birth month. We do one big party. Cupcakes are to way to go also. My kids had fun decorating their own one year. Hope this helps. Good luck just remeber what ever you do your daughter will love it.

Hello! My daughter is now approaching her 17th birthday in early November. Birthday parties were always a big deal to me when she was younger and we would always have a fun time. One thing you can incorporate for a birthday in October or early November is a costume party. This gives another chance to show off and use Halloween costumes. I think mid afternoon on a weekend is your better timeframe to hold the party. You want nappers to have had a chance to get one in and be refreshed for the event, not cranky. Working parents are more apt to be able to attend. This is a tough age to get organized games going on. Disney music playing softly in the background is good. The kids will dance around and be interacting to some degree, but you should also have some action stations where they can play on their own, such as legos or blocks, play-dough, coloring, bubbles, music makers, etc. Depending on your home and space - you may want to consider having this away from home. That time of year is tough to plan on an outdoors party, we have used the preschool room at our church some years and other years, I rented the Underwood Community Center, which is a large gym which I had bouncing balls/ small hula hoops, jump ropes, etc available and they ran around and were noisy and loved it. This building has a kitchen and dining area to the side where we sat up everything - food, drinks, cake, gifts. At three, you really dont need to invite a big crowd. We have alot of family, so we have a group without even getting to the friends list! I have heard the rule of thumb before of inviting as many kids as the birthday year - so three friends for a three year old. This does work well. You can setup a make your own music station with some empty metal cans, like coffee cans. Get some drumsticks or use wooden spatula. get some party favors that include harmonicas, shakers, flutes or other noise makers. Kids love them! Another good place to have a youngster party is The Ranch restaurant in Hood River. They rent out their party room quite reasonably and it has litte tykes play equipment in it and this venue can simplify, because you really only need to bring the cake and the kid! they decorate, they have food, they have ice cream, drinks, etc. When you are done, they clean up and you go home to your unviolated house! I know this is alot of info sort of scattered in together, but pull what you can from it and have a great time and remember - this party is a celebration for YOU as well, an anniversary to remember when your darling arrived into this world and your life.

Brunch is just fine. and works nice if there are kids that still take naps.
I did a brunch for my daughter's first birthday. It was a big event for us with 30 people including about 10 kids all cousins. For her second bithday I let her pick out a small cake, she chose a cream puff, and we shared it at my parents, no big deal, she was only two. She will turn 3 in Feb and we will probably do a brunch again, but will be more low key and will invite some of the friends that we made as well as family.
What I did last time was to make an invitation that gave aprox times of when when were doing things so people could come when it worked for them, it was an all day event, but would work for you too.
We had brunch at 10:30 (baked french toast, quiche, fruit)
presents at noon
cake at 1:00
lunch after for anyone that wanted to stay, and I just had a big pot of soup and some bread.
This worked for us because we have big family on both sides, adult friends that wanted to come, several people lived an hour away and we had work and ferry schedules to work around. It was nice because not everyone was there at the same time.
Do what works for you! If the Hostess is stressed out then nobody has a good time. You could ask people to bring things, or do a potluck. I liked the idea from another mom of painting cookies. Have someone help if you do a project, it is a lost of work to be the Hostess and then to organize and teach the kids to do something, but it will be fun for everyone - let the adults do it too!
Have fun and relax!!!!!

let me know if you want the baked french toast or an easy soup recipe.

Have a Mommy and Me tea birthday party. This way you limit the number of parents to one, the Mom. You can be girly with your little girl, have cupcakes, small sandwiches, tea/juice. Or.... if your daughter has friends of both sexes, then invite the Moms and have a craft party. Buy white sweatshirts (it's fall and cooler), get some fabric paints and pens and let the kids make their own shirts. We did handprints of every one on each other shirts. Mom's can do it to... a neat momento of a time that's going to go by just way to fast. Or have a library party. Everyone brings their favorite book and they get to talk about it, even 3 yr olds can re-tell their favorite story. Then at the end of the day, you and your daughter can donate the books to your hospital's pediatric ward for kids there to read while they're getting well. Alcohol and kids usually isn't a good mix. Drinks will get sat down and inquiring minds will want to taste. A recipe for disaster. Make it about her and her friends. But Mommy and Me, or just little girls are so much fun. We did big straw hats where we hot glued silk flowers and ribbons when my daughter was 5, everyone went home with their own creation and we took polaroid pictures of the group, so everyone had one to share at home. One year we did a stamp party, We've gone to movies, had lunch out. But at 3, keep it sweet and simple. Have the girls bring their favorite doll or stuffed animal. Go to Build A Bear and then have lunch out at a pizza parlour or other restaurant. Enjoy it all, it goes by much, much too fast!!! Happy Birthday!!

The only things you should be firm on is a start time, end time and no alcohol. Do it right after lunch so everyone comes fed and serve only cake, ice cream and maybe some other little goodies. 1-3pm works good, then everyone feels or should feel that they have time in the afternoon to get home and get some of their own stuff done. Sounds like if you just don't serve alcohol the party is over for the adults. This needs to be about your child and not everyone else. I fell into those traps (have never served alcohol)of trying to make everyone happy with my kids early ages and it just becomes this huge/stressful thing and it shouldn't be. Kids are so simple and just love the idea of a party in general and don't really care who it's for.....they just want to play.
Make it short and sweet and you will actually enjoy yourself as well!

Hello K.!

You have received some great and helpful advice thus far so I don't have a lot to add other than that I think the idea of costumes is great for a few friends (because it is so near Halloween), doing something in the early afternoon (in case the adults have been invited somewhere else for later in the evening) and to have a few limited activities, perhaps involving decorating crowns (you can buy those paper ones at any costume supply store) or wands. Something involving flashlights are fun..you could give them for favors that can be used for Halloween (you can find them pretty cheaply, a dollar?) For all our girls, they loved any reason to dress up as something different. I kept my eye out for inexpensive costumes and had some on hand in case some couldn't come in one and they played dress up. We have friends who go the big party for everybody route and although it is under the auspices of their child's birthday, it seems like the birthday part is afterthought. I am also a big fan of photo cakes. I am not sure where you live, but the Safeway on Roosevelt & 73rd in Seattle has the machine for making the photos (on rice paper). They can do the cake there or you can get the photo done and take it to your nearest Safeway that has a bakery. (If you do this, you need to bring a gallon ziplock bag to put the photo in so it won't dry out.) Our kids love seeing themselves on their cake! Good luck! Please don't stress out too much! One more idea: puppet shows are fun at that age!

First, you can have any type of party you want. I would have a mid morning party with no more than six kids at that age if you have an inside party. That will give you an excuse to not serve alcohol. You could hire a clown, but some kids are afraid of clowns at that age, or a story teller as somethings special and then have a book to take home. Kid's parties at that age should be simple and not overwhelming. Not to much sugar or noise. A treat to take home. Good luck.

Decide what you would realaly like to do and stick with iT. We have done several brunch parties fro my kids and they have always been great. The kids have fun playing and the food is so easy for brunch. Dads have usually come too. You can offer mimosas for adults if you want limted alcohol but no one seems to expect alot to drink in the morning--another nice thing about brunch. Good luck!

My son will be turning four and I am planning to have a party at the local children's museum. This way, the kids have plenty to do and we will have a room to do cake, etc. If most people are unavailable during the week, have it on the weekend. If you want to limit the adults, you could sent the invitations in the names of the children (state that admission for one parent will be included as well). Having the party at a children'ts museum or a similiar setting will give you more control and prevent issues with alcohol, etc. I hope this helps! S

OMG - what you described is NOT a kid's party! It's HER party, not yours, so you should invite HER friends and their parents. A good rule of thumb is age of child = number of guests.

When my daughter approached her third birthday last November, I asked her which of her friends she wanted to invite over for cake and ice cream... but she could only have three friends. Those friends and their parents came over for about 1.5 hours. We did a treasure hunt all over the house (little stuff like crayons) instead of just giving the kids goodie bags. Then we opened presents, then ate cake and ice cream. That's it. It was on a Saturday afternoon, and both parents were invited, but everyone understood it was about the kids, not the parents, and that after 1.5 hours it was time to GO HOME.

After 1.5 hours of high stimulation, all the kids were *ready* to go home.

This year she's already talking about a "princess party", so I'm thinking about how to set up a dress-up tea party kind of thing.

Good luck!

I can't believe I am the 1st to reply...N E wayssss, I have dealt with similar predicaments. Here is what we did. This is your daughters party, for her, about her, & only her. Make it at a "kid friendly" location where there can't be alcohol(this way you don't even have to say to anyone that no alcohol is allowed):
Chuck E Cheese, you can take your own cake and party stuff(plates,cups,balloons,gifts...) in at no charge. Buy their tokens and maybe some pizza & fountain drinks and your daughter will have the best time! You can get coupons for them at ChuckECheese.com...If you don't have a Chuck E Cheese, do McDonalds, Burger King, any place that has the FREE toy area for the kids. You can take your own stuff in to most places. At 3 years old they are not really ready for a birthday party where everything is planned out each step of the way. Let them go play, call them back for food & cake, let them go play some more, call them back to open gifts, let them go play some more while you clean up, & then it's time to go home. Take lot's of pictures and have a good time for you and with your daughter.
Making the party outside of your home and outside any "party (drinking) zone" will help ease your mind of it turning into a "drunk." Let the dads & Grandparents & other relatives come,. if they want. The kids LOVE getting to play kid games with their parents & family. It's great that they want to come and interact, somewhat, in what their kids are doing. They are celebrating you as parnets as well as celebrating your little angles birthday, enjoy the glory!

PLUS! Having the party somewhere else makes less clean up for you, you can go home and crash! Hope this was helpful. Please let me know what you decided and how it went.

Hi K.~

I have something for you! I have used it the last three years with my kiddos and will never do a birthday without it!! www.birthdayexpress.com. Order your ENTIRE birthday in a box from decor, to cake topper, to games, to pinatas - EVERYTHING! And they have total themes from Barbie to Hello Kitty. Delivered to your door. Here's a couple of head's up:

1. Do something NOT at your house - if you go to a pizza parlor there is no clean up for you as long as you do a decent tip. Many places even have birthday packages that they set up for a fee per kid. Nice thing about pizza is everyone will love it!

2. Keep it to about two hours in length. Do a kiddo game (only one or two - don't overwhelm) and a pull-string pinata. Nice thing about a pull-string is that everyone gets to participate, no broken mess, and no swinging sticks. It has strings on the bottom that everyone takes turns pulling until it "breaks" open! How cool is that???

3. If you are on a budget you can make your own cake or even better cupcakes! Make your own cupcake cake - this is great since there is no cutting involved, and everyone just grabs a piece. You line them all up, frost over the top, then decorate. Or buy one at Safeway or Albertsons! They have themed cakes as well.

4. Make a wish list for your guests. This isn't rude - it is helpful. They go to get your kiddo a toy and haven't had a three year old in 10 years! Things are different. Plus it's nice to get what you need and not have to run to a million stores returning and exchanging. Target and Kmart have general registries which print out lists to go in your invites.

5. You can go midweek! Just do it in the evening. Schedule it for about 6 (most ppl are off around 5) and end at 8. Perfect! Gives you an easy end time, and allows for time to get home and get into bed.

Hope something here helps! Be sure to tell us how it went!


I know it's a little expensive but Chuck E Cheese's has always been great for us. There is no drinking and the kids have a great time. You don't even have to have a party with them. When our oldest turned 5, we used on of their tables, brought our own cupcakes (Or you can purchase one from them) and had a simple party. It was really cool. We also had birthday parties from ages 3-5 for both of our boys. (Four years worth.)
The other suggestion is Pump it up Jr. Again, no alcohol and the kids have a great time.

Best of luck to you.

My daughter just turned three... We served a make-your-own-burrito bar. We didn't serve alchohol, because adults drinking alcohol around children is simply not appropriate. We serve lots of water bottles and soda and fruit drinks.

I had my daughter open her presents from people as they arrived, so that she could say thankyou to each person and enjoy their gift for a few minutes. This was a huge success. It made the gift giver feel more special, like their gift wasn't just part of a huge pile to be tossed aside while the next one was opened. It also took the focus off the gifts, because there wasn't that "gift opening time."

Guests arrived. We ate. We served cake, and everyone ate cake and laughed while watching the kids did a pinata. Each kid got several swings (youngest to oldest), and the parents enjoyed taking pictures of their kids up to bat. I filled the pinata with some candy, some sticker, and some other small trinkets. This also took care of the party favor issue, since every kid was given a small baggie to put their loot.

Hi K.,

My daughter is 2 and we just had her birthday party, and it was quite a success for everyone. We had it in a public park (no alcohol allowed) on a Sunday afternoon at 3.30 (post nap, pre dinner), and invited families to come and bring their other children and even in-laws or elderly parents, to create a more community feel. We had a local dance teacher who works with toddlers come and do activites with the kids for about 30 minutes - the rest of the time was just spent eating and playing, and of course, opening presents. It was really fun, and not too much work. I did provide all the food, but it would have been easy enough to have it as a potluck. We've been to a half dozen birthday parties this summer, and most included dads but not alcohol. I'd set a short time limit (90 minutes) and make your expectations really clear.

Good luck!

(p.s. Your idea is a good one - guys can eat brunch, too!)

Hi K.-
I love to throw parties for my kids. I was wondering what you thought about having a mom and child party. Then you don't have to worry about the guys at all. If you plan the time of the party right, like during a football game, I am sure the guys wouldn't mind missing the party at all. The moms will be a big help given the ages of the kids. You could theme it as a prince/princess tea party. That way it includes both boys and girls and moms! This would be an easy theme to do activities, games, crafts, food and cake too. Check out the family fun website for ideas and oriental trading company for theme related ideas.
Hope it all works out for you, enjoy the party!

Do what you think your DAUGHTER will like. Screw the guys needing to drink beer. Really.
We had two birthday parties in August for our 3-year old. We did his first ever friend party and invited his 3 closest friends to the park. They played, had snacks, and had fun together. Very low-key. Then we had a family birthday down at Jamison Square with sandwiches and cupcakes and playing in the water. Also very fun.
I think brunch sounds great. And then you might think abotu splitting the parties - have Arden's three closest friend for one, and all the family for the other. (I am going by the number of freinds for the number of years idea).
Good luck!

I don't think you need to have the expectation of throwing a huge party with lots of people. We threw our sons 3 year-old birthday party at MacDonalds in West Linn because they have an awesome play area and it's very reasonable, including lunch, goody bags and the cake. We had about 9 kids there (including our son) and most of our friends came as couples. The dads had a great time playing with the kids. Having the expectation that the dads will go off alone is wrong. All of the dads we know participate just as much as the moms. It should be all about your daughter!

I don't know where you are located but...is there an indoor playground in your town. In Bend, we have one called Kiddo's. I had my daughters 2nd birthday there and it worked out great. The best thing is, there is a start time and an ENDING time. Also, I don't think those types of places allow adult beverages - so the pressure is off you to explain.

Here is what I have learned over the years about kids bday parties. I have a 5 yr old daughter and a 3 yr old son. First off limit the party to 1 and a half hours. Trust me this is PLENTY of time. Put on the invites 1:30 - 3:00 or whatever. If that is nap time or doesn't work do it from 10am to 11:30 this way you do not have to feed them lunch. most kids won't eat at a party anyway so basically you are feeding the parents. (doing it early makes it clear there will be no alcohol). For 3 yr olds I would only plan a couple games. Easy things like pin the tail on the donkey or get a pinata and fill it with candy, put it in the garage if the weather is bad and let the little cuties have at it. If you must have food just have kid friendly food; pigs in a blanket, popcorn, pretzels, etc. Have fun and don't stress out. the kids will have the best time ever!!! oh one more thing...instead of cheap party favors...I did gift certificates to baskin and robins just one scoop for $2 each and the kids got a huge kick out of it. good luck!!

I have never done a 3 year old party, but I have done 3 4 year old parties. I invite the children. If the parents want to stay, that is their choice. They are welcome to stay or leave. I then plan activities for the children. I have done each of the parties at home, inside. I pick a theme for the party and find games to go with it. There are lots of great ideas online.

If you choose to do brunch, or something like that for the adults, that could work too. But if the party is truly for your 3 year old daughter, I would spend most of the time planning things for the kids so that it is a special day for her.

My mom's old rule of thumb is that the number of kids should equal the kid's age, so for a three-year party, there should be three kids invited. This may actually simplify things a lot right away.

My favorite resource for kids B-day parties is our local Dollar Store. A lot of random stuff but also seasonal items. So much raw material with which to be creative on a budget. You set the tone for the party, if you are having fun she will too. Take pictures... she only turns 3 once!
Happy Planning!

We had my sons party last year (his second) and we are planning on for this year (also late October) at a farm - super easy, relatively inexpensive...a few crafts, which they provide, pick a pumpkin and some apples, and cake...easy and fun. Both parents and kids are invited, light snacks will be provided. Goodie bag can be as simple as the fruits that they pick, usually farms have petting zoo areas...

What if you held it somewhere that drinking wasn't an option. There are many places to rent spaces or that are even free, usually those confine the guests to one area so you wouldn't have as much of the seperation as men drinking in the garage women watching kids. What about all of the pumpkin patches around, the one is sauvie island has the maze and other stuff or the one on the way to woodburn, they had a bunch of activities, those kind of places make it a family affair. You could do a brunch but if you are thinking Sunday realitically you have to think football, there are places also that you can go and paint (like those ceramic shops) some do parties, or I have seen places where the kids go and decorate their own cookie or cupcake. There's always chuckie cheese. I don't know what area you are in but I think there is a kids cafe somewhere. Okay well sorry this is so rambled I am in the process of drinking my first cup of coffee and my brain isn't awake yet. :) Good luck!

At three years old, they still like to do "free play" and just have a good time. I would have some activities for the kids to work on when they want, like an art table with just some paper, stickers, glitter glue (very easy to clean up) and maybe some crayons or washable markers. If you have a theme, you could have shapes in that theme for them to decorate (pumpkins, black cats, or Elmo!). We did a Leapshore Learning fishing game at our party in our house! Just did a deep rubbermaid tub with some water in the bottom, towels near by and magnetic fishing poles/fish and the kids loved it. Our home made ball pit of an inflatable wading pool and ball pit balls was a huge hit too. I would do the party on the weekend when it is a good time for your child, don't serve beer or alcohol if you think the dads will just drink and not participate, and have fun. Brunch time and food are a great idea, we have been to a party with brunch food and it was perfect, just add cake or cupcakes.

I would invite the family you need to and the friends you love and friends you like that have children in the same general age range. Decorate with some balloons and crepe paper, noise makers the kids can blow and have fun! Simple games and a few choice toys or activities are really enough to keep little ones occupied. Sorry to hear the dads are not into it, in our area the dads are pretty involved and often come to the parties unless they are babysitting a napping sibling. Don't worry what the dads want, do what you think is fun and comfortable for you.

I think you're worrying yourself too much. I personally didn't find it necessary to throw a big party with other than family and maybe close friends until my daughters started pre-school. Before they started school the only people they really knew anyway were our friends and family. When they started pre-school and Kindergarten and had their own little circle of friends is when I started throwing the parties. Until then, it was just our circle of friends and family. Alcohol wasn't included.
One of the things my girls loved to do from a very early age is decorate their own cake. They have extra fun having everybody ooh and aahh over their art work, more fun than if I had surprised them with it. Family and friends is a great way to celebrate without goving over the top.

My daughter has the same birthday, last year for her third we did a costume party on a saturday afternoon. It was her idea, mostly because of the time of year and seeing tons of costumes everywhere. Plus she is a dress-up girl, and her older cousin had a costume party for her birthday in June. Kids and adults dressed up and everyone had fun. It was cool because many of them would not have dressed up for halloween, but enjoyed this opportunity. Although she has decided to have a Wizard of Oz theme this year she still wants people to dress up so looks like we are starting a tradition. Just another idea.

Also Chuck E Cheese does work well, but can get expensive fast. If you go you definately don't have to do their party, but if you are doing it more for the kids it is a good deal. If you are going to buy food and drinks for adults too (people do it both ways) then scout the paper and their website for coupons. And if the parents really need to drink they sell alcohol there but in limited quantities, like only 2 per person.

Good Luck you've gotten lots of good ideas.

For my Daughters third we let her choose a theme, Princess, was what she chose. I made capes and bought crowns for everyone, and filled a pinata with treasure for everyone. It was in the afternoon, we had hot dogs (her choice again) and cake. The kids ran around and had fun and the parents mingled on their own. Don't stress it will all work out and the one and only person who needs to be happy is your daughter.

Oh, no! This is stressing you out WAY too much! Remember that she is just barely turning three years old, and you don't want the pressure of having a nearly impossible act to follow every year. I am a Mom and have a preschool/daycare in my home, and what thrills the socks off of the little ones is just what my dear Mama did for us when we were young... I let them choose what kind of cake and what color of frosting. That's it! We play some games, maybe have a little treat for everybody. They all want to check out the new toys that were opened, too. I think kids' parties have gotten WAY out of hand, to the point where parents are stressed out and the kids are so overwhelmed and exhausted that it takes them a week or more to recouperate! For what? Who is this all for, anyway? To make the other parents think you are amazing? She is honestly not going to look back on this years from now and think you were neglectful because you spent less than $20 each on gift bags for her little friends. If your family has the tradition of the whole gang being invited, make it a potluck! That's what I do. You can seriously spend an insane amount of money, as well as all of your energy for the month on a party that is supposed to be fun. Having a completely drained Mama is not fun. OH! You know what else is a fun, easy activity that everyone (adults included) seems to enjoy? Bubble wands! http://bigbubblewands.com/ This is a fairly inexpensive way to have a lot of fun without a lot of stress. Sorry for ranting so, but I really want this to be pleasant for you BOTH. God bless you and yours! :)

There are many wonderful suggestions on here. And the thing that everyone is pointing out is that the party is for her and not the adults. at her age 3-4 friends is a good number. And desginating a time is ideal, late morning or early afternoon. Also, know your budget. How much are you willing to spend on an activity if you want one to come in. If she wants a theme like a tea party or princess theme, you could always taylor games to that theme. My business is doing kids parties and I always find out if there is a theme co I can have games that go with it for the kids. For example, the tea parties I do Pin the handle on the tea cup. I have the kids decorate the handle. I also have coloring pages and kids seem to really like that too. Once you decide on a theme feel free to contact me and I can share more games geared for your daughters age that fit the theme. I hope this helps.


We did our daughter's birthday party at 1:00 on a Sunday. It was June, so we bbq'd in the back yard, but it worked really well for us! I think midday parties discourage much drinking, but it was still a time when many people were available and we could have lunch with the party. If you don't want to deal with lunch, do a 10:00 (light snack) party. Good luck!!


I went to 2 parties on the same weekend for friends/neighbors kids. Each was different, but they both focused on the child.

1. had chairs set up around the perimeter of the room for parents and friends to sit and talk. The garage was done as a play area/movie area for the kids. Snacks (chips, dips, soda, juice boxes) were put out for people to help themselves to...very relaxed and conversational with kids running all over. Fun and no pressure. This was held on Saturday from 2-5pm. Child turned 2 yrs. Sang B-Day song and had pictures when time, and had open area in living room for opening gifts. Parents were asked to help keep an eye on the play room and keep an appropriate video running (usually Mickey Mouse). There was also a pinata with streamers to pull to try and release the candy that was fun for the kids (all ages there).

2. The other party was on Sunday evening (5-7pm). this consisted of a very casual BBQ dinner (dogs, burgers, beans, potato salad, juice boxes, soda) and a few folding tables were set up along one wall for people to sit at. Kids played in the main living room. Men kept each other company by going in and out of the garage to look @ and talk motorcycles...BOYS!! Anyway, it was fun and relaxing. The child was turning 1yr.

I guess, whatever sets right with what you want to do for your child is okay. In my experience, children under 5 yrs. really do not care one way or the other as long as they get to have fun. None of the homes we went to were very large, but it worked. Rooms were filled with family and friends. Some whom had never met, and that was fun getting to know others in the atmosphere of celebration.

Good luck,

I have two boys, 7 and 4. We always have their bday parties on the weekend during the day at our house or at the park, with snacks (pretzels, cheese sticks, etc.) or pizza, cake, and an activity or craft project for the kids. Usually just the moms bring the kids but sometimes dads show up too.
We don't serve alcohol and during the day at a kids party,and people don't expect it.
For craft ideas, you could make and decorate paper crowns, play with play doh, paint pumpkins (since its October), etc. kids at that age don't really need alot of planned games or activities, just something to do. Try to keep it less than 2 hours and you don't have to invite everyone you know. Some people have a family party and a friend party on different days. That way you can spread out the fun and keep it more manageable. Also, Ive found that with young kids, opening presents at the party can be overwhelming and not fun. If you can, open the presents after the party and then send out some fun thank you notes.
another way to keep it kid centered is to have the party on location,like the children's museum or a community center.
At the community center kids can play in the gym, jump on the trampoline, do art projects etc. and its not too expensive.
Just some ideas, Good luck!

I'm dealing with some of the same issues. My son is turning 3 at the end of November and I find myself getting so jealous of mom's with kids who have summer b-days. An afternoon party at a park or in the bakyard with grilled hot dogs and a kiddy pool and they have a fun and cheap party. We decided to go with a farm theme this year. Decorating with bails of hay and screcrows in the front yard and playing pin the tail on the donkey or duck duck goose. WE're going small with the food - doing pigs in a blanket and deviled eggs for the theme and having a barn shaped cake. And we're not inviting everybody - only people with same aged kids and a cople of close fmaily members like grandparents and keeping it mid-day - approx. 2-3 hours. We'll see how it goes. Good luck to you. Maybe you could try going to a pumpkin patch?

You may feel pressure to throw a big party, but you obviously want to buck the trend. Any of the kids parties that my group holds are 2 hrs., snacks for the kids and something for the adults. No alcohol and usually the number of children that your child is in years. Keep it simple...especially for these first years.

In past, I have tried to prepare food for the adults and have found that they hardly touch it. It has been a total waste. Good luck and go with your gut on this one.

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