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What Kids Really Want for Their Birthday, at Every Age

As parents we sometimes stress about throwing the perfect birthday party for our kids, obsessing over details until the final product is a party more for us than our children. Here's a helpful cheat sheet that breaks down what your kid actually wants for his or her birthday depending on their age.

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Toddlers: On your baby's first and second birthday, any party you throw is more for you than it is for them. Toddlers don't know what birthdays are. Toddlers don't care if their baby friends wish them happy birthday or not. And frankly, they'd rather not have a bunch of strange people staring at them and taking pictures. Toddlers can't be bothered with party games of any kind because they all get boring after two minutes. Toddlers are, however, very interested in eating cake with their faces and ripping up shiny wrapping paper.

Related: See Babies Birthday Eat Cake For the First Time

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Preschool: From the ages of about three to five years old, kids start to appreciate the "party" part of a birthday party. While eating cake is still one of the highlights of a birthday, preschool kids are also very excited by the idea of winning prizes by playing a game, winning prizes by whacking a piñata, or being given prizes for doing nothing at all. Kids this age also often have favorite characters or people. So if you could arrange to have someone like Elmo or Elsa from "Frozen" show up, that would make it the "Best Birthday Ever." Or if you can't arrange to have Elsa show up, paper plates with Elsa on them will probably make it the "Best Birthday Ever," too.

Elementary: From five years old to about nine years old is the prime era of birthday gifts. Kids at this age know what they want and aren't afraid to ask for it. The idea of a large birthday party with a lot of friends is appealing not only because kids are starting to build true friendships at this age, but also because kids have figured out that a lot of party guests equals a lot of birthday presents. So stock up on those party favors.

Preteen: Kids ages 10-12 still want lots of gifts but their friends are becoming more important than ever. This is a great age for smaller, experience-based birthdays. Instead of the traditional birthday party consider taking a small group of your child's friends to a theme park, to a concert or roller-skating. Preteens want to feel popular and cool, which can be tough to achieve at an age when kids are mostly made up of knobby knees and first acne outbreaks. Just remember, above all they don't want to be embarrassed.

Related: The Pressure of the Birthday Party

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Teen: Teenagers still want a birthday party but there's a good chance they don't want you, their parent, there to celebrate it. As for gifts, they want cash or gift cards, unless you can afford a car in which case that is the preferred birthday gift. After the party, when no one else is around, teenagers will still secretly want that special birthday cake you always make, topped with the same wax number candles that you've been using since they turned one.

Related: Inside a Teenage Birthday Party

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