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Precautions for Pandemic Parties: Good Parenting with Dr. Debbie

Dr. Debbie,

We are trying to plan a party for our soon-to-be six-year-old next month but are still concerned about social gatherings. Some of his potential guests are under five, and therefor haven’t been vaccinated, and we don’t want to ask for vaccination cards for anyone else, although we’re pretty sure all the parents are vaccinated.

We could a) delay the party another month or two until more children are vaccinated or b) go ahead with plans to be outside and hope for nice weather (and be nervous about invisible germs).

Either way,

Life Isn’t Normal Yet

Dear L.I.N.Y.,

A child’s birthday party is a wonderful way for children to practice their social graces – taking on the roles and tasks of host and guest, and remembering their P’s and Q’s. There are the rituals of song, cake, and candles, and the exchange of gifts and party favors. At this age, adults do a lot to guide the children through the activities and the traditions so that a good time is had by all. Unfortunately, as with all social interactions these past two years, children’s birthday parties have had to undergo modifications.

The Least Risk

If your guest list is limited to children who are all in the same class, there’s no more risk of contagion than there has been at school. Outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities. If you know the children well enough their parents don’t have to stay. If you limit the number of children, the odds of contagion are further reduced.

Even less risky is for everyone to stay home and attend by Zoom. A virtual party may feel less satisfying to those of us old enough to remember what a “real” birthday party is supposed to be like. But if your child is turning six, he hasn’t had the chance to experience a “normal” party with other children since he was three-years-old, which is half his lifetime ago. You can deliver materials to each guest for themed activities that will be conducted during the party, such as pre-cut pieces to make a dinosaur hat, if that’s your theme. Or include a list of on-hand materials such as an empty toilet paper tube, wax paper, and a rubber band to make a kazoo for a music-themed party.

Uncertain Times

If anyone in your household should come up with a positive test in the two weeks before your planned in-person party, you’d have to cancel. A positive test could come up for any of your prospective guests, which, if there was contact with your child or others on the guest list, would warrant a cancellation as well.

Modified and tentative plans are the best we can do for now. While the current variants seem to cause less severe illness than earlier versions, the novel coronavirus is still very much active in Maryland and elsewhere. According to the latest information from Andrea Garcia, JD, MPH., Director of Science, Medicine and Public Health for the American Medical Association, the soonest we’d have vaccines for the under fives would be June. And that’s for first doses. So even postponing until July your guests might not yet be in the clear.

Making Memories

My recommendation is to do something on or near your child’s birthday, with Covid precautions in place. This might be a fun activity and special meal with people already in your immediate “bubble” of regular interactions. Or a picnic with a couple of families at a park. Or look ahead for a kid-friendly event to which your child can invite one or two friends to accompany your family. (This weekend there’s a free Tall Ships festival at Annapolis City Dock.) Instead of blowing out candles on a cake – and possibly transmitting germs through the air – make individual muffins or cupcakes and steer the birthday boy to blow away from everyone. Or invent a new tradition to signify that he has completed six orbits around the sun and is beginning his seventh.

When we have the luxury of looking back on how we managed family life during a multi-year pandemic we can reflect on the ingenuity and resolve that it took to parent during this time. A scaled back, or very different, birthday celebration will become part of your family’s story of this historic period.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  The museum is now open for timed visits for families and small groups by reservation.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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