Birthday Party for a Three Year Old – Yay or Nay?


Last year I threw a birthday party for my son that included close family and three of his little friends and their associated families. I considered inviting his friends this year but the guest list began growing out of control. If I invite friends from preschool then I feel the need to invite the entire class. That’s eight other children, their parents and siblings. That’s at least twenty four guests!

I could forgo his classmates in favor of friends we’ve made throughout the last three years, but those friends seem to travel in a flock. There are a number of mothers who are all quite close to one another and if I invite one child I feel rather obligated to invite them all.

Again I really don’t want to add another twenty plus people to the guest list, so I’m considering limiting the celebration to include only family members. My son wouldn’t have any little friends at his party, but he would have my parents, my in-laws and both sets of uncles, aunts and cousins.

Our options are:

  • Host a party with just family.
  • Host a party with family and friends even though that includes an extra 20+ people.
  • Host a separate party for just friends at a nearby park or playground. Bring a cake and candles but otherwise keep it casual; like a large play date.

Here are my thoughts….

  • As a three year old I don’t think that he’s missing out on anything by not inviting friends.
  • His birthday falls on a school day, so I will bring mini-cupcakes to preschool so his classmates can sing to him.
  • I always ask guests NOT to bring gifts, so whether they attend or not he won’t be gaining any more toys.

I am leaning towards a family celebration without friends and then possibly hosting a park play date with cake a week later.

What are your thoughts? Did you host a party for your three year old? If so was it worth it? If not do you think your son or daughter missed out on the experience?

PS: I should have mentioned that this issue is not so much about the cost of throwing a party but rather about the hassle of planning a larger celebration.

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8 thoughts on “Birthday Party for a Three Year Old – Yay or Nay?”

  1. How does he handle big groups of people? That would be my measuring stick.

    We had a small family party (grandparents, aunts/uncles, and baby cousin) when Pickle turned two this month, and it was overwhelming for her with just eight people. Several times she said to me “All done!” and needed to go into the other room by herself to chill out for a few minutes. I don’t expect that things will change much by her third birthday, so we will probably invite only the same people and maybe a few family friends who she loves. It saves a lot of hassle for me but more than that makes her birthday party something that she is more likely to enjoy than be stressed by.

    Why do you feel like you need to invite EVERYONE from preschool? Is that really a thing that other parents take personally? (I’m worried about this when we start preschool next year so am genuinely curious, not baiting.) My gut instinct is that I don’t give two hoots about inviting kids that my daughter has not expressed a distinct preference for, but again we’re not in preschool yet and she doesn’t have any “friends” that I haven’t picked for her, so…..

    • My son would probably prefer a more low key party. He’s also much more comfortable with family then with anyone else, so in that regard keeping the guest list small makes a lot of sense. It’s interesting that your daughter was wise enough to ask to be removed from the situation. I could see my son saying something similar if he was overwhelmed at that age.

      I probably wouldn’t be too concerned about the preschool thing, except for the fact that my son just started. He has shown a preference for two or three children, but since it is so early in the school year I really don’t want to exclude anyone he might enjoy playing with later. If he was born later in the year I don’t think it would be an issue. Silly I know, but still true nonetheless.

      • That’s a really good point – friends made in the first few weeks of school aren’t necessarily the ones that will be close at the end of the year. Pickle’s birthday is early in the school year too so this gives me something to think about!

  2. My son’s birthday is in two weeks. He is getting pizza and cupcakes at Friday preschool and a family only party. He really just cares about the food–he isn’t into gifts, so this works. We did go to a friend party for his bestie last month, so I debated a friend party but I can’t justify the work.

  3. We had a party with everyone for our daughter’s second birthday. The weather was nice, so we mostly hung around outside with bubbles and cake and ice cream cones. Next year we’ll probably be more selective about the number of friends that we invite.

    I’d say that if you’re giving cupcakes to the preschool kids that you’re covered there already. Focus on having a nice family celebration. If the best friends travel with all the rest, then a play date at the park could be another special outing for your little guy, but a totally optional one.

  4. My son just turned four, and we’ve only done family parties up to this point. Usually it’s just Mommy, Daddy, and him. It keeps my life simpler, but it also gives me a chance to build little traditions with him. For instance, I bake a cake and he helps me decorate it. The simplicity gives me an opportunity to enjoy his special day without focusing on other things, and I really love it. We worried a bit this year that he might be a bit disappointed not to be throwing a big party like one he had been to earlier this year, but at the end, he looked up at me and said, “Mommy, this was the best birthday party in all the world!” Works for me. šŸ™‚

    • I loved your comment. A family with three kids recently put together a list of 40 experiences they loved for their dad’s 40th birthday. The father thought the list would include things like taking them to pricey hockey games and big trips to Disney World, instead it included activities like making pancakes on Sunday morning and picking pumpkins from the local patch.

      Your comment sealed the deal on my decision. My son loves to help us in the kitchen and I already planned on asking him to help with his birthday cake. I think the experiences around preparing for the party might be better than the party itself! This year we won’t be adding anyone other than family. Next year might be different but we’ll just have to wait and see!

      Thanks again for chiming in!


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