Scaling Back on the Size and Stress of Your Child’s Birthday Party

When my older son turned 2 in 2013, I was so excited to plan the cutest Sesame Street birthday party the Pinterest world had ever seen. Although my main career is a high school teacher, I’ve spent the last eight years working for a wedding planning company on the side. Planning events is my thing.Tama St. Petersburg Birthday I love it, I’m good at it, and now my sweet boy was going to get to enjoy my unique skill set.

I planned for two months straight, designing decor, crafting food table signage, creating adorable Sesame Street character themed games, and scouring the Target dollar spot every time they had sesame treats. We invited about 15 children to his party.. A mix of neighbors, family, our friends’ kids, coworkers’ kids, etc.

Everything turned out adorable and my son had a great time except I realized something – he only played with about 3 children at his party. And I spent all this time and energy and money to feed and entertain 5x as many kids and parents. Why did I do this? Of course he only played with those few kids, those were his actual “friends”…the children he has spent time with, the ones he knows well and likes. At some point I lost sight of this and invited everyone we know with kids. Well, not anymore.

blakebdaybounceI decided at that point, for future parties, I was cutting the guest list. I was only going to invite the actual playmates of my child. Not children of my friends, not his whole daycare class, just the kids that he enjoys being with…even if that only amounts to 3 or 4 kids.
Since when is it not ok to just have a few kids at a party, anyway? At some point it seems like in our society quantity became more important than quality. Bigger has to be better. When you are two years old, it shouldn’t matter how many people are at your birthday should just matter that the people who are celebrating with you make you feel loved.

The following birthday, this past May, I cut out several guests from the previous year. My husband was a little concerned about offending people but I really wanted to make this party about our son, not about us. It made a difference. My son had the best day playing with his real friends, soaking in every moment. I took the less is more approach in all aspects and focused on what he would appreciate and love the most – not what would impress or wow our guests. I was glad I cut the guest list and didn’t look back.


Are you looking to cut back the size and stress of your child’s birthday party? Here are a few of my tips on bringing back the birthday party to focus more on the guest of honor and less on everything else-
1. Ask your child what is important to them. Is there a certain food they would love or a game or activity they want? If your child is too young to express this, then think of what you have observed their interests to be and what truly excites them.
2. Pick a few big decor items so you don’t overwork or overspend on details your child doesn’t notice. My child is obsessed with balloons (not surprising) so this is pretty much the only must have decor item on the list. Sorry Pinterest, you are not sucking me in as much this time around.
3. Keep your parties short – 2 hours is a good amount of time. Kids need naps, adults have busy lives, and a shorter party means happier guests the whole time. Keep it moving and don’t wait too long to sing and serve cake so that guests feel comfortable leaving when they need to.
4. Digital invitations are just fine! This is a kids party, not a black-tie affair. Paper invitations end up lost or in the trash, whichever comes first. Most of my guests enjoy the convenience of an email invitation and RSVP anyway.
5. When you are creating your guest list, think of children your child plays with often – weekly, monthly, etc. If they haven’t seen that child since the last birthday party, it’s ok to let them go. If you are worried about offending friends, reach out to them and let them know you are planning a smaller birthday party for your child this year with just their closest friends. Most parents will be understanding of this and may even be relieved to have a reprieve from yet another kids party.

Happy planning!

Shawna is originally from Miami, Florida, but has called the Tampa Bay area her home since 2005. She graduated with her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the University of Florida where she also met her wonderful husband. They welcomed their first child, a beautiful boy named Blake, in 2012, and have enjoyed the excitement, energy, and laughter he brings to their lives every day. Shawna is a working mom who balances teaching high school, choreographing for the school's dance team, experimenting in the kitchen, crafting, planning events, venturing around the Tampa Bay area, and of course, spending time with the amazing family and friends she is fortunate to have.


  1. Shawna, I love this! I have totally cut down. My son turned 3 this year – – – his first bday was a train party at Largo Central Park where the kids could ride the train. We invited tons of people and Pinterested it out – train made out of cardboard and painted, covered in a year of photos, etc. He loved riding the train, loved smashing his cake, loved the balloons, loved hanging out with his 3 real buddies, and loved he dollar store train whistles everyone got. Could have cared less obviously about my décor. Fast forward to last month, I did a 1 1/2 hour party at Great Ex, our local kids’ museum. Superhero food, and basically I made one themed fruit tray. The rest was just random. The kids played like crazy, had cake, and everything was over in a flash. Back home to open presents and take a nap, but not before getting to take home a balloon, the only decor he cared about – and it was the best day ever!

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