Parties: First Fete

Debbie Briner
Evie Jewell digs into a cake for her first birthday.

A child's first birthday marks a major milestone that parents are eager to celebrate. Beyond the big day itself, “It's a huge celebration because you've completed making it through the first year of being a parent,” mother Lori Jewell said.

It's tempting, especially for first-time parents, to plan an all-out bash. But remember that such events can easily overwhelm a toddler, who may not even remember the party.

What will stick with the child, though, is the trust and security of being surrounded by celebration and love, according to Dr. Melissa Winterhalter, an ambulatory pediatrician at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Whether it's a small or large celebration, there are a few key points to remember. New parents often fail to consider that sensory overload can overwhelm even the mildest-mannered tot, who may burst into tears over the crowd, the noise, the singing or even the first taste of cake or ice cream. Make sure party time takes into account baby's nap routine to lessen the chance of a meltdown.

Also, it's helpful to keep in mind your child's personality, Winterhalter advised via email. “Plan a party that matches your baby's temperament,” she wrote. “Small groups may be easier to manage for both the parents and the baby. However, if your baby does well in a large group or with loud music and talking, then you know your baby best.”

When Jewell's daughter Evie celebrated her first birthday in December, 35 guests attended a party at their Hilliard home. The list included family, friends and some of Jewell's co-workers “who have to hear me talk about Evie all the time,” she joked.

Evie enjoyed her guests, presents and a piece of cake before tuckering out. “We really had a good time,” Jewell said.

Instead of giving Evie a smash cake at her party, her mother booked a time with a professional photographer to capture the frosting-filled moment. “We let her go at that cake,” Jewell said.

Kelly Abrams of Granville bypassed the smash cake for daughter Wynona's first birthday party in February. “I wanted to make it myself because I knew it was going to be her first cake,” Abrams said.

She chose a banana cake recipe and used it to bake cupcakes the week before—a trial run to ensure Wynona approved. For the party, Abrams decorated the cake with frosting and sprinkles.

Smash cakes are one way to include a birthday activity that appeals to toddlers' senses, Winterhalter said. “Songs and smash cakes can be a fun way to celebrate, encourage multi-sensory learning and to foster a feeling of fun and adventure,” she wrote.

Such desserts often are incorporated into first birthday parties at Piccadilly Modern Play & Creative Café, manager Audra Mauter said. The Bexley play space offers party packages for children ages 1 to 10 and helps parents with the planning, including decor and food. “Some parents are really into decorations,” Mauter said. “Parents are all about the highchair decorations.”

Piccadilly parties include access to the play space and an activity such as a painting craft or rain sticks. “Something sensory, something fun,” Mauter said.

At Peapod Play Cafe near Gahanna, birthday parties for 1-year-olds include time in the play space with oversized toys. “Our toys are designed for young kids,” owner Chien Cho said.

Winterhalter recommended matching party activities to a child's development. “Singing songs and including simple instruments like a drum can be an easy yet engaging activity that would teach rhythm, gross motor and speech skills. Most year-olds also enjoy bubbles or finger painting with applesauce or pudding that would invite fine motor and sensory learning.” Just watch out for choking hazards such as balloons, candies, buttons, coins and batteries.

One more piece of advice: Don't lose sleep over your child's first birthday party. “I tell the parents to relax,” Cho said. “We try to provide a stress-free party. Your friends are not coming here to critique you.”

Abrams said she has learned you can plan all you want, but that doesn't mean everything will go as planned. What mattered is that Wynona had a fun first birthday party. “She woke up the next day and wanted another party,” Abrams said.

Step back and enjoy what you've accomplished in baby's first year, Winterhalter recommended. “You've made it a year together, and the best is yet to come.”