Give your young one their own cake to eat (and destroy).

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Any parent who's planned a festive first birthday party only to have the guest of honor sleep through the proceedings or seem a little lost and forlorn will love the idea of a smash cake celebration. It's a sweet, tactile and completely photogenic way to include your child in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get down and dirty with his birthday cake -- literally.

A Little Cake on the Side

Most first birthday parties are celebrated with a cake, but smash birthday parties boast two cakes, a large cake and a single serving cake. The large cake is for the adult guests, and the second cake is for the guest of honor. Whereas guests eat their cake by the slice and usually employ a fork, your child will have a cake all to himself, no fork required. Once presented with his sweet reward, he's encouraged to attack it with his fingers, fists or face. This table-manners-be-darned approach results in a face full of frosting and cake crumbs, cake covered fingers and cake on the floor. It also inspires grins all around.

There are some variations on this theme, like employing a larger smash cake for a party where more than one toddler will be participating. These can be messy affairs that look more like domestic catastrophes than parties before all is said and done. But three or four children with cake all over their faces laughing uproariously can be a heartwarming sight. The one-year rule isn't hard and fast either. If you think your toddler might appreciate a smash cake and missed his chance last year, there's no upward age limit.

Smash Cake Tips

When planning your smash cake extravaganza, keep a few things in mind:

  • Don't expect the mess to stay on the tablecloth. Make sure to cover the floor with a nonskid covering.
  • There may be some heavy-duty cleanup involved, so be forewarned. Better yet, if the weather permits, an outdoor party at a nearby park might be the answer to your prayers.
  • Although it's popular to choose a theme for the party and then buy a smash cake that will complement the design of the larger birthday cake, this nicety isn't essential. Your toddler will enjoy smashing a cupcake or even a slice of a regular birthday cake if that's what works for you.
  • If you're buying a birthday cake, you may be able to get a smash cake free or at a reduced rate from your neighborhood bakery. Smash cake celebrations are growing in popularity, and your baker may be able to offer a package deal.
  • Brightly colored cake frosting makes a great looking cake, but the food dye can stain skin for a couple of days and wreck havoc on your clothes and upholstery. If you want to keep the destruction at a minimum, stick with white frosting for easier cleanup.
  • On the big day, save the actual smashing until after the other festivities are out of the way unless you want to interrupt the flow with cleanup detail.
  • Remove any plastic decorations from the cake before presenting it to the guest of honor.
  • This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so make sure you have a camera ready to capture the moment.

Making mud pies never looked this cute, and as your child digs into his smash cake you'll know he's enjoying his birthday as much as you are.