The Life of a Party
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In “The Life of A Party,” an article for the February issue of PB Parenting, we outlined some solutions for parties for the reserved or anxious child as well as suggestions for limiting parenting stress related to party planning. The article can be found here.
Here are some more suggestions to help turn these other stressful party scenarios into fun celebrations.
Helping The Reserved or Anxious Child at Other People’s Parties
To help these children enjoy other parties, it is important to take your cues from them. If they appear to be enjoying the party from a distance, allow them the right to figure out her own boundaries. This is an important lesson in social and emotional growth. However, if they appear to want to engage more actively with the party but do not know how, ask them what they really want to do, or who they really want to talk to, and give them simple strategies for how to take the first step. If they prefer, take the first steps with them and maybe they will feel comfortable enough to go at it alone the second time around. Also, by phoning the parent of the birthday child and asking for the party details including how many guests and the planned activities, you can help prepare your child by giving them the information and even role playing the party in advance so there are no surprises the day of the party. Remember, part of the task of childhood and adolescence is to grow socially, and parties are one way in which children take steps toward the development of their social selves.
The Child Who Misbehaves at their Party
Some children see their birthday parties as an opportunity to break the rules since, after all, it is their special day. Help your child see that birthday are not an excuse to misbehave or act in disrespectful ways. When children know that the limits you set for them are consistently enforced, they feel safe and know what to expect. Remember to set ground rules before the party and remind them of these rules if it appears they are tempted to break them. Help them practice waiting in line and treat their guests respectfully.
Meltdowns over Presents
One moment your child is having fun celebrating with their friends and eating cake, and the next minute, they are on the floor crying amidst a mountain of wrapping paper, cards, ribbons, toys, and the watching eyes of friends and family.
For children, opening gifts in front of others can be more of a daunting task than might be expected. The very ritual of gift receiving can be overwhelming for most children. Having to evoke the patience to unwrap the gifts, say “thank you” to the gift-giver, and restrain the urge to play with the new toy, might be asking the impossible from a child, especially when the added effect of sugary birthday treats become part of the equation. As parents, we know our job is to teach our children manners, patience, and appreciation, however, life naturally provides an abundance of other opportunities in which to teach our children these virtues. To avoid the present meltdown have your child open presents after the guests leave, consider having them choose three or four presents to open every day until they have all been opened, and having a place to keep all the unwrapped presents until they are ready for use to keep children from feeling overstimulated and overwhelmed by all of their new choices. By creating this structure, you increase the likelihood of them enjoying their birthday celebrations and limit the chances of them ending up in an upsetting and distressing meltdown.
Party for Twins
While some individuals enjoy fully identifying with their twin sibling, others prefer to be consistently recognized as a wholly separate person. In this case, you should consider two distinctly different celebrations. While it is not always plausible or realistic to plan two separate parties on two separate days, you could create two parties in one by asking your children for ideas that may include specific themes they are interested in. One could get the Sesame Street themed birthday they were dreaming of, while the other gets their own Handy Manny party complete with separate plates, cutlery, cakes, and decorations. It might also be fun to include opposite elements like chocolate and vanilla cake and having them sit at opposite heads of the table, signifying equal importance. It is always important to ask both children what their preferences are. While one might really enjoy parties, one might ask for a dinner with their family and a few close friends at their favorite restaurant. When you honor their individual differences, you boost their sense of self-worth in the process.
Divorced Parents at a Party
In the case of divorced parents who have difficulty interacting cordially, it is important to remember to put the children first by being on your best behavior. This might mean staying on opposite sides of the party and limiting interactions to moments like watching your child blow out the candles. There are, however, situations in which it might be best to have a one-parent party. For example, when it is impossible for parents to interact without arguments surfacing, it might be wise to have a smaller celebration with one parent and a few close friends or relatives before or after the main party so the child still feels both parents have acknowledged and celebrated their special day. Another such situation might be if the presence of both parents together might confuse a young child in light of a recent divorce. When deciding on the best course of action, remember to always put the needs of the birthday boy or girl first.
Birthdays Falling on Holidays
The child whose birthday falls on New Year’s or Christmas may worry that their special day will be lost amongst holiday cheer. If you plan a birthday party for your child around this time, make sure you give your guests plenty of advanced notice. If you find out the holiday plans of those you most care about, you can schedule your party around their plans to make sure your child’s most special people will be there for their day. No matter what, find ways to clearly separate time for the birthday child. Wake them up with a special birthday hat and shirt. Spend the morning engaged only in celebratory birthday activities and clearly “mark” the end of birthday time by singing “Happy Birthday” and eating cake before moving on to holiday festivities. Keeping these two occasions separate recognizes your child as a special person to be uniquely celebrated.
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