Summer is here! School is out! Vacation planning has begun! It also means that party invitations will abound. There will be July 4th parties, random Sunday cookouts & probably some birthday parties! This means that you and your family will most likely be spending time with big friends, little friends, other family members and plenty of relative strangers (at the pool, the park, the birthday party!). All of the folks at (cool) progeny have been working hard compiling exhaustive lists of birthday party ideas, themes, activities, venues and much more for our birthday guide. But what else do you need to know about birthday parties? Lots!
If you and your child are playing the hosts
Happy birthday to your kid! It’s probably hard to believe that they’re already 2! Or 6! Or 10! You may have put a lot of thought and effort into their party or you may just be having a quiet family get together + a cake. Either way, if you’re entertaining other kids and perhaps their adults too, you just might be worried about a few particulars. If you are having the party at your house or at a venue where YOU are the person in charge (rather than at a gymnastics venue where there will be staff who are the “bosses”), then think carefully about your expectations of yourself and your guests (be they little or big) prior to the party.
1) Before the party begins, talk with your child about what it means to be a host/hostess. If they are old enough, then you should touch on trying to make guests feel welcome. If you’re holding the party at your house, then this means that other kids may play with your child’s toys. If there are certain special toys that are not to be shared, move them out of the line of fire prior to the party. Prepare your child for the sharing that will most likely occur. You should also talk about how to accept a gift that they might not like. Role-play getting a present that isn’t very fun. You can wrap up a pair of socks or a canned good and have your child open them in front of you. Try to help them accept the “no fun” gifts as graciously as possible.
2) There may be some non-negotiable points that you’ll need to go over with your guests before the party gets under way, i.e. the second floor is off limits or the section of the park that you have reserved needs to be kept free of litter. If this is the case, then consider having a quick “meeting” during your words of welcome to your guests. If other parents are there, you could ask them for their help with these few rules.
3) You might have to consider your comfort with speaking to other people’s children about their behavior. If an argument breaks out between two kids you don’t know well, you may be called upon to mediate. Deciding beforehand that you are #1 ALLOWED to do this and #2 CAPABLE of doing so may help you feel more prepared when and if you are faced with a sticky situation. Don’t be afraid to step in (with as much kindness as possible of course) to redirect kids who are getting a little rowdy or using inappropriate language, etc. If you know yourself pretty well and know that if there’s a lot of kid chaos, then you’re going to have some difficulty, consider setting up a cool off spot. It doesn’t have to be a “naughty spot,” but could be a sprinkler set up in a corner of the yard or code for getting a drink. This way you can cool off too before addressing some of the problems that are bound to arise.
4) Finally, if you’ve ever been to a “classmate” birthday party, you have probably hung around (sometimes awkwardly) with other parents who you don’t know well. Birthday parties where adults don’t know each other can be great opportunities for getting to know people or great opportunities to get to know the latest apps on your phone. Consider having some sort of activity that involves the adults to help break the ice if there will be parents there who you don’t know. This could be as simple and as fun as having name tags for grown ups (and kids too if you think you might need them).
If you and your child are guests
The date is written on the calendar. The carefully (or not so carefully) selected present is wrapped. Your child is amped up about the promised moon bounce! And depending on your knowledge of the birthday boy or girl, you are either looking forward to attending or are dreading your involvement in the upcoming party. As with hosting the party, you still have to evaluate your expectations before the party, but this time you need only worry about your expectations of your child and their behavior.
1) Prepare your child for the party as best as you can. Walk them through the activities that you know will take place. If you know there are going to be elements that are going to be a little unsettling for them, discuss these with them before you go (i.e. a big, unfamiliar dog or a dark and noisy laser tag arena).
2) Talk about the fun you hope they’ll have + how they should behave. Try not to harp on the things that you don’t want them to do. Put your expectations into sentences that start with “I want to see/hear…” Here are some examples: I want to hear kind words! I want to see silly faces! I want to see you eating some cake! I want to see some good listening to Mrs. _______! I want to hear pleases & thank yous! I want to see you having fun with your friends! And just like when you’re at home, if you see silly faces, recognize them (“Now THAT is a funny face!”)!
3) Finally, if you are attending the party, try to approach it with an open mind. It might seem like 3 hours on a Saturday that could easily be used to do some chores, but it also is an opportunity to see your child having fun and maybe even to have fun yourself. Adults are allowed in bounce houses too.
It’s party time!
Photo Credit: Laura Black, Laura Black Photography