A Socially Distant Birthday Party—Good Parenting


Dear Dr. Debbie,

Obviously we are not gathering our son’s friends for an actual in-person birthday party while a stay-at-home order is in effect.

Even a “Drive By” party – with parents obligingly driving past our home with their children shouting and waving from open windows – appears to be off limits. Since the schools have introduced e-learning, and my husband and I are getting more comfortable with Zoom, we’re looking for ideas to entertain third graders online to mark this special day for our son.

On With the Festivities

Dear OWF,

New challenges due to the pandemic of COVID-19 abound. No, you cannot gather in person to celebrate a birthday but thankfully technology is letting us keep socially connected. Zoom and Google Hangouts make it possible for a group of children, with adult supervision, to be together virtually. (If you’re already using a video chat app for work or school, be sure to follow the recommended security precautions.)

Keeping to the essentials of a child’s birthday party, here are some virtual party suggestions:

Guest of Honor
Ask your son to choose a theme for the party and to work with you on planning the party activities. Invitations can be done by email, text, or telephone, considering the peculiarities of our present circumstances. As you prepare the activities, help the birthday boy choose a role for himself that fits his personality. An outgoing child might enjoy being the M.C. for his friends’ displays of talent. A more introverted child might prefer to blend in among his guests for the activities.

Party Guests
Since your party venue has unlimited space, this is the perfect opportunity to invite the whole class, the soccer team, his faraway cousins, the friends he made at summer camp, etc. etc. etc. Parents will likely be delighted to have their child participate in a safe social activity during this time of Social Distancing.

For a younger child, or a child who has a lower tolerance for social stimulation, the guest list will be limited to the few friendly faces he’d like to see appear on his screen. The “party” could also be broken into separate times for specific smaller groups to attend.

Party Vibe
Has a theme been chosen yet? It’s best to go with something that your son enjoys and that many of his friends are sure to enjoy, too. The theme could be based on a popular kids’ movie, a (not too violent) video game, a superhero character, a musical artist, or a sport (how about reviving Major League Baseball for your theme!). Some themes lend themselves to a brief guest appearance such as a pirate, a magician, or a sing-along leader. Note, if you are technologically savvy enough, this could actually be a pre-recorded video of yourself in costume!

A theme could suggest the guests wear something special to the party. A winter hat for a Frozen theme. Animal ears for a Safari theme. A team t-shirt for a sports theme.

Party Games
What’s a party without party games? Your party needs real-time activities children can participate in via their screens.

Teachers are being inventive with keeping a group of children who are Socially Distant to stay Socially Engaged with one another. Must’ve been a teacher who came up with a way to roll dice online.

Pictionary is a game that can be done on Zoom with the whiteboard feature. For a Pokémon party, guests could draw pocket monsters for the others to guess.

Use a combination Scavenger Hunt and Show and Tell to prompt each guest to hunt down an object based on the party’s theme. If you’re inspired by the new movie, Onward, guests can search for a stick that looks like a magic wand, and then tell the others about its magical powers. For Toy Story, show off a doll or action figure and tell why it should be in the next sequel.

It’s easy enough to make up a Mad Lib based on your party theme. You can even find ready-made stories online. The guest of honor can ask each guest for the missing words, then read aloud the hilariously concocted story.

If your child and his friends are online gamers, some of them may already know how to set up Minecraft, Sea of Thieves, or another video game so all the guests can all play together.

Gifts and Giving
Make a decision with your guest of honor about gifts. Since the guests won’t actually be coming to see him, this might be the time to suggest the alternative of choosing a charity for them to donate to – maybe one that is helping out with medical supplies or food pantries in your area. If your son has a favorite local restaurant, suggest that his friends buy themselves a gift certificate to use for home delivery or for a family meal out in the future.

Since family budgets may be precarious at this time, your guests might be welcomed to share their creative gifts rather than a material gift. This could be in the form of songs, poems, or drawings they have made for the occasion. An audience of third graders would enjoy up to about a dozen such presentations by their peers, emceed by your son if he’d like to, with enthusiastic applause by all.

Cake and Candles
The dramatic highlight of a child’s birthday party is the Happy Birthday song and blowing out the candles. The candle tradition is easy enough to do on screen. But the cake? Think about a “shared” snack, something everyone is likely to have at home (even better if it fits with your theme) so that all the guests can enjoy watching each other eat. For a baseball game theme, it could be popcorn.

A child’s birthday is a wonderful reason to come together. Even if everyone cannot be in the same place for it.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at: drdebbiewood.com.

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com