Several weeks before Allison’s birthday, Mom began the conversation about what they should do for the Big Day. Allison had been planning her fifth birthday party for months with many hours of make-believe candle blowing and other traditional rituals acted out with a supporting cast of stuffed animals and baby dolls. Mom was invited to participate in many of the variations Allison invented for her pretend parties — a princess party in which all the guests wore newspaper crowns, a pirate party for which Mom contributed some “treasure” from her junk jewelry stash, and a petting zoo party at which some of the stuffed animals became exotic creatures with whom the other guests could visit. But when it comes down to the Real Deal, parents decide on the budget and schedule, but keep the Birthday Girl in the conversation about the place, time of day, guest list, menu, games and favors.
Whole Grain Goodness
It would seem to be unnecessary to point out that everything about a birthday party should be good for children. Special attention, special food and special activities add to the enjoyment of the celebration. Just a quick reminder, then, to prevent “spoilage.” Positive attention is always good for children — just don’t overdo it. There’s a balance between Allison getting to choose many aspects of the party while at the same time keeping her guests’ needs in mind.. Since children younger than seven have trouble taking another person’s point of view, four-year-old Allison might need more coaching than she will when she’s older. For age-appropriate party activities that won’t leave anyone crying, consider art activities, bubble blowing, dancing, or a treasure hunt with each child’s name on their own “prize.” If you decide to have games, look for those that are based on cooperation and camaraderie. For some silly group fun, see how long everyone can keep a beach ball in the air — using your bare feet. .
Timed to Perfection
You can help your child to be the perfect Guest of Honor/ Birthday Host with a well-planned timetable. Begin with readying your home (or arriving in advance to your party location) so that Allison can greet each guest and direct where to put coats and gifts. When you introduce yourself to children and parents you might not have met yet, your examples of “I’m glad you could come” and “It’s so nice to meet you” are just the phrases a novice greeter can use herself, since she might otherwise be at a loss.
At present-opening time, your heartfelt exclamations serve to let the gift-givers know their efforts are appreciated, as well as give the recipient words she can copy on the spot. Some rehearsal and discussion about how to receive EVERY gift with enthusiasm can take place at your make-believe parties.
Farewells are as important as greetings, sometimes accompanied by a “favor” or goody bag as a token of thanks for being part of the celebration. This gesture, too, is best learned at the side of an expert. “Rodney, we’re so glad you could come today. I hope you enjoyed yourself!”
The Icing on the Cake
Did you remember to take pictures? Were there charming comments from guests about how much they were enjoying the activities? Satisfaction from a party well-done can be savored as you are cleaning up (or packing up). Be sure to mention the things you noticed your child doing as a good host. “Your friends sure had a nice time,” is the best gift of all.
By Deborah Wood, Ph.D
The author is the director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum, where children can learn many things, including how to be a good host at their own birthday party!