Cake, balloons, gifts and friends — there’s something magical about a child’s birthday. But there can be an “unhappy” side to birthday parties as well. Many parents feel obliged to keep the invited — and the uninvited — content.
Unless your child has only 10 classmates, it’s probably not realistic to invite everyone. In that case, it’s important to invite guests as discretely as possible.
“First of all, NEVER have your child hand out invitations at school,” said Doniese Wilcox, Certified Family Life Educator at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. “There will always be hurt feelings in that case.”
A couple of good options include mailing the invitations or talking to parents directly by email or phone. You can also hand invitations to parents, such as after school during pick-up, at church or another location where you can get their attention for a few moments.
“Parents of the guests and the guest of honor should encourage their children to avoid talking about the party at school,” said Wilcox. “Children talk, but this is a good lesson in empathy.”
Activities that include everyone
Birthdays aren’t happy when someone is sitting on the sidelines.
Set up activities that keep guests occupied without a lot of “performance-based” spotlight. For example, sensory stations (such as molding play dough or digging in sand) for younger children are simple activities that teach hands-on information about textures. Crafts and dress-up stations teach the art of sharing, too.
Hosting the party at a destination — a park, zoo, swimming pool or rollerblading arena — keeps older kids easily entertained. Ask your spouse or another parent to help chaperone to keep guests safe and accounted for.
Also, avoid games that result in winners and losers. No one wants to feel like a loser at a party!
Avoiding a meltdown
For some kids, it’s hard to be alone in a new situation with a lot of commotion.
“When inviting guests, offer parents the option to stay for a while at the party,” said Wilcox. “They’ll know if their child needs that extra support.”
Once the child feels more comfortable and interested in the fun, parents can tell their child they will be back soon to hear about the party. This is a good opportunity for a child to experience a little independence.
“If you’re the parent of the birthday child, encourage him to take a quieter child under his wing,” said Wilcox. “This gives another lesson in empathy.”
And when the whole shebang is over, you’ll be pretty proud of your child’s grown-up behavior, too.