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Secrets to Party Success

Weeks (sometimes months) in advance, children begin anticipating their birthday parties... and many parents begin dreading them. What are the right number of guests, the most fun activities, the perfect cake? Here to help is Parenting's party guide  -- with kid-pleasing themes for every age, answers to sticky etiquette questions, the lowdown on loot bags, and more!

Planning together

A child's first birthday is a milestone mostly for parents; the tot of honor will be oblivious. So the party is all your call. Time it for when your child is apt to be cheerful  -- often late morning or after her nap. For a child 2 or older, the party theme, activities, and size should fit her age and temperament. If she's old enough, "start discussing options with her a month or two ahead of time," recommends Debbie Webb Blackburn, a clinical child psychologist and assistant clinical professor of psychology at the Medical College of Virginia and the mother of three. "Suggest she think about hobbies, heroes, and favorite games. Asking for input will make her feel important." (And, chances are, more cooperative.) You might also let your child pick out the invitations and decorations, even if they don't perfectly match your theme.