Putting the Happy Back in Birthday
“Amanda is 2!” read the banner draped over the entrance to our neighborhood park. And that was just the beginning. A cooking area complete with printed aprons (“Amanda’s 2nd Birthday”) and chef’s hats for each child, a craft area with three different creation stations, a pony ride with three steeds awaiting , a bounce house, a child’s snack area, and an adult area replete with wine choices and gourmet treats served by men in black. Really? This was not a birthday party; this was a birthday event.
I know two year olds pretty well, and I am trying to imagine this birthday girl having fun at HER party.
What the heck is going on with kids’ birthday parties these days? Since when did it become de rigueur to invite everyone the parents know? Since when did it become an adult event at all? Since when did guests assume siblings were invited? Since when did the party favor bags (filled with candy) become a cutthroat party feature? Since when did it become acceptable, (if not necessary) to spend a small fortune on a two year old’s gift…the same child who already has a personal Toys R Us? This is the era of competitive birthday partying. What happened to the days of cake and ice cream and goodbye?
Most young children—one, two, and three year olds—do not thrive at over amped birthday parties. In fact, those often fremzoed events are the ones at which the birthday child ends up overwhelmed, melting down, and in tears. They are the epitome of lousy local conditions: Too many people; too many strangers; too much forbidden food (the kind that is forbidden home); too chaotic.
If parents want to help their young child to celebrate his/her birthday in an age appropriate, meaningful, and stress-free way, it can be done. Here are some suggestions for putting the happy back in the birthday.
- Remember whose the party it is. Keep your own child and his/her needs alone in mind. The purpose of the party is not to impress others. It is to celebrate YOUR child.
- Mind the number one birthday party rule: Invite only as many children as your child is old plus one. If your child is turning three, you invite four guests. I know, I know, you are worrying about all your friends who will have hurt feelings. Your real friends will understand. You are worrying about all the cousins who will feel left out. (Have a separate family celebration, focusing on the whole family being together.) You are worrying about all the kids in your child’s class and the school rule about inviting everyone. Bring muffins to celebrate with the class at school. Separately, your child will have much more fun and will truly enjoy herself with a small group of her close pals.
- Let parents know that it is a child’s party, that children’s food will be served, and that arrangements need to be made for siblings.
- Make sure that the entertainment is not only age appropriate but also that YOUR CHILD enjoys it and is familiar with it prior to the party. Often shooting too high or unfamiliarity make for an unhappy birthday child.
- Less is more. Children are easily entertained by the smallest things. Save the big plans for the Sweet Sixteen.
- Shorter is better. Let the party end with everyone wanting more and before it devolves into birthday mush.
- If favor bags must be given (and frankly, they are unnecessary), don’t put in anything that you wouldn’t want your child to have, aka c-a-n-d-y.
- Consider having a real no-gift policy. It is difficult for a child to get pleasure out of gift after gift. (It is the adult gift giver whom we try to please by encouraging the child to love each gift.) Likely, no one’s child actually needs any more stuff, right? So, on the invitation write No gifts, please stating that gifts received will be donated. Then do it. Family gifts are plenty for your child to process and enjoy.
Staying your ground in this era of competitive parenting takes great strength and confidence. But it states that you are doing what is best for your child. And everyone will have a much happier birthday.