Four things to be sure to talk about with your child before having or attending a birthday party to make the experience successful for everyone.
A birthday party is a very exciting time! Everyone loves a birthday party, and no birthday party is more excited for a party than adults in a child’s life. There is so much excitement oozing from the grown-ups that it can leave children feeling very excited and even anxious as a party approaches.
A birthday party can also bring a lot of stress for all involved. Planning a birthday party takes a lot of time and effort. A party can be very stimulating and overwhelming for children. There are many sites, sounds, and new stimuli for the child.
Even older children can have a hard time with birthday parties. Extra sugar enters the bloodstream. Jealousy can creep up for children who aren’t getting gifts. Lack of gratitude can emerge as children are lavished with gifts.
I am always a big believer in prepping children for events to help them be ready for success. You can read more about this in my post Ask and Tell. Children are not born knowing what to expect from life experiences we adults think of as old hat, and they greatly benefit from some simple “hey, this is going to happen and these are the expectations.”
There are many simple things you can do to help your child mentally prepare for a birthday party, whether that be her own party, a friend’s party, or a sibling’s party. Here are some key points to discuss.
Talk About Manners
If it is your child’s birthday, he will get a lot of attention from friends and family. Talk about how to respond to compliments, how to greet people, and how to thank for gifts. We adults often unfairly expect children to know manners they have never been taught.
Parties often bring together a mix of groups of people. You might have friends from school, cousins, and teammates. Talk to your child about introducing everyone to each other and to work to make sure everyone feels included.
Talk About the Food
Birthday parties typically have a lot of sugar at them. Decide what you are okay with your child eating and what you aren’t okay with them eating. Discuss ahead of time if you will only allow one cupcake. If you are going to place limits, it is always helpful to explain those ahead of time rather than in the heat of the moment.
Talk About the Gifts
This is the biggest one I think needs to be discussed. Talk about the gifts.
If your child will receive gifts, explain what your child should do when opening gifts. “When you open a gift, be sure to look at the person and thank them for the gift.” You don’t want to have to say, “What do you say?” every time a gift is open.
It is also wise to tell a child to appreciate the gift and take time to really look at it. Children understandably get very excited to open gifts and often open, toss it aside, and open the next one. That can be hurtful to the gift giver.
Instruct your child to not say things like, “This is weird. Why did you get me this?” I have noticed children can be very self-conscious when presenting a gift to a friend. Everyone is looking on to see what you are giving, and the child can feel insecure about it.
People are also very excited to give gifts and can easily feel hurt if the receiver exclaims, “This is strange!”
You also want your child to move through the gifts in a timely manner. Younger children often have a hard time moving from gift to gift. They want to play with the gift they just opened! So allow for some looking, but keep the gift opening moving along.
If your child is not receiving a gift, there are still things to talk about. If a sibling is having a party, it is easy to feel jealous of the gifts. It is easy to ask to play with all of the new gifts your sibling has gotten. Explain that your child should give the sibling (or friend) time to be the first to open and enjoy the new gift.
You also want to make sure your child knows to not open other people’s gifts.
Talk About Behavior
A birthday party is very stimulating. The birthday kid can easily turn a little “diva” with all of the attention and limelight. Remind your child to remain kind, considerate, and inclusive of others. You might even create a secret code word or code action to remind your child to take it down a notch if needed. You don’t want to embarrass your child in front of friends, but you also don’t want your child to be a punk to her friends.
If your child is headed to someone else’s house, remind them to not yell, climb on furniture, make messes, etc. Remind them to listen to the adult in charge and to be respectful.
A simple conversation with your child can really help make your birthday party much more successful and enjoyable all around.