Expectations of both parents and children run high to have the perfect party. This makes planning and hosting a birthday party stressful. Despite your best efforts, if you have a young or sensitive child, it is possible that your child or a guest may end up in tears at the exciting, stimulating event in which you have invested considerable time and money.
Prevent your party from becoming a tear fest. Follow these nine easy steps to keep the enjoyment level elevated for all attendees, you included.
1. When setting your guest list follow the classic rule of your child’s age plus one for the number of invitations. Not many three year olds can handle the thrill of a huge party. How does your child do with other large, family events such as Thanksgiving? Use any lessons you have learned from other celebrations to help you develop this party.
2. Schedule the festivities when your child is at their natural peak. If they still nap do not schedule the party at the time of day when they are usually sleepy. If your child is an early bird, plan a morning event. If your tween or teen is lobbying for a sleepover party but you know from experience that they turn into a nightmare without enough sleep, steer them in another direction.
3. Look at a variety of options for the party location. For some children a party held at home will reduce the potential for emotional overload. However, this is not always the case. Shandy Tilley’s daughter had meltdowns at a few home parties before her mom recognized that she was stirred up even by the preparations. “Having them offsite allowed us to have a real start and finish time and two hours was plenty. It made the transition easier for Tatiana if everyone came to the party at the same time and left at the same time.”
4. Think about the timing of gift opening. Who says the gifts must be opened at the end of the party? My son pushed back at this concept one year and we let him open the gifts as guests arrived. This freed him to enjoy the planned activities instead of coming over every two minutes to ask when we were opening all those glorious presents. Anne Marie Healey used the same tactic when her two children were young. “It also allowed the giver to have some one-on-one attention on their gift.”
5. Gift giving can be a source of potential anxiety for the guests as well. Children are usually excited about showing off the present they brought and wrangle to have theirs opened first. When Healey worked at a preschool that hosted parties they managed this process by giving each child a square with a number on it. The child sits until their number is drawn randomly and then they offer their gift to the guest of honor.
6. Manage your child’s expectations about presents to prevent an embarrassing or hurtful response to an unwanted gift. To avoid a random “I hate it” or “I already have that”, you can role-play before the party. Rehearse several times by putting silly things, such as a can of peas, in a box. Have the child open it and teach them to respond with the requisite thank you.
7. Think about the games or activities you are offering. Even simple, seemingly age appropriate activities can backfire if they are not suited to your child. Tilley suggests, “Don’t play competitive games. Who knew musical chairs could be so trauma provoking?”
8. Be organized with the games or activities so that the guests are too busy to misbehave. “I always have extra activities planned in case things go faster than expected,” says Tanya Bonham, mom of two and owner of Parties to Go.
9. If you feel pressure to keep up with the parties being coordinated by your mom friends… take Tilley’s advice, “Don’t worry about competing with the supermoms. Invite them to help.” As your guest list grows along with your child and parents no longer stay at the party, recruit extra hands.
Most importantly, tailor the party to your child’s personality and temperament. If tears occur, take heart and remember that it will be funny several years down the road.
Sue LeBreton is a freelance writer and mom of two. She is always happy to survive a birthday party without tears.