I read an article recently about children’s parties, where to host them, what party bags to provide, where to source the most fabulous cakes and find the best entertainers. Well, it left me longing for a simple game of pin the tail on the donkey. Then a friend told me about an 8 year old’s party her child had been invited to at the Mandarin Oriental where champagne was flowing –well the parents would stay if that was on offer wouldn’t they? I have been aware for many years that the children’s birthday party has become an arena for competitive parenting where adults seek to outdo each other in providing the most of everything. When my son was about 7 the party entertainer of choice at the time was Ali-doo-lally who made the party child so much the centre of attention as to exclude everyone else there. But what do the children get from such an event, apart from a sense of extreme entitlement and ludicrous expectations and perhaps a sugar hangover? Do your children even enjoy parties? The article I read didn’t say anything about preparing the children.
Well of course not all parties are grandiose examples of parental one-upmanship and can involve some simple party foods and fun games. But even then do your children like parties? Your child may love a party but you have misgivings about sending them because of how they behave when there. Some children will love parties but there will be some kids who find them quite difficult too. Some children are shy and don’t have the social skills to enjoy being with a crowd of children. Others may find the noise, lights and number of people overwhelming. This child may find the number of activities and foods too much. Some children get over excited and hyped up and then behave badly. Recently doubt has been cast over whether sugar, long thought to be the culprit for hyper behaviour, is to blame. But whether it is down to food consumption or the excitement of the occasion and a pack mentality some children will run around and shout uncontrollably. Then there’s the inevitable disappointment of not winning the games or even not receiving the gifts which may lead to tears. Are you wondering why you’d ever bother hosting a children’s party? And there’s the clean up afterwards.
If your child has been invited to a birthday party (or indeed is the birthday child or a sibling) and you want to prepare him for it here are 4 simple ways of ensuring it goes well: (these ideas are for children under the age of 8 –if you have a teenager there’s an altogether different set of rules)
- If your child has a sensitive temperament then he will need coping mechanisms for all the stimuli you get at festive gatherings. Teach him about his own temperament by making a habit of describing for him all the sensations and emotions he experiences. Let him know that he needs to protect himself from overstimulation. Depending on age you could ask him for ideas about how he could protect himself from too much noise. He might suggest cotton wool/ear plugs in his ears! Make sure he’s well rested before a party so that he can cope. Make sure you reduce the amount of stimulation in that day –so no shopping mall trip to get the present on the way there! Electronic stimulation is also a factor so no computer time beforehand. Get your child to think about what he can do if he feels overstimulated at the party. Can he go somewhere quiet like the bathroom or the garden or a bedroom for a bit? You may need to set this up with his host.
- If your child is unconfident in social settings you can prepare by using role play at home. Use her dolls and teddies to practice how to behave and what to say. Get to the party early as it’s easier to talk to one or two people than to come into an established crowd.
- When preparing for a party its best to ask your children how they will need to behave rather than tell them, otherwise it just sounds like a nag and they will tune you out. If they’ve said how they will behave it’s more likely to happen. Don’t threaten a punishment for poor behaviour, or offer a bribe for good behaviour either. Instead look out for signs of the type of behaviour you want to see and mention it to them. We get more of the behaviours we pay attention to. Eg you’re eating with your fork –that’s just the way you’ll eat at Sam’s party. I like the way you walked into the house from the car even though you were excited about seeing Granny. That way nobody got knocked over!
- Ask them how they may feel when the party child gets given presents or if others win games. For younger children you may need to suggest that they might feel a bit jealous or sad or disappointed that’s it’s not them winning or receiving the gift. Don’t tell them off for feeling that way or tell them you don’t want them to feel like that. Don’t say jealousy isn’t nice. Instead acknowledge that it’s natural and that we all like to win and receive gifts. Ask her what she can do if she feels that way so that the birthday child’s experience is not spoiled. She may suggest coming to get a hug from you if you’re there or an older child may be able to do something else to comfort herself or remind herself that she can have another go in the next game (or say something inside her head to alleviate her frustrations!)