If your child’s birthday parties are getting out of hand, gear down with these tips.
Remember how you celebrated your birthday when you were a kid? You probably spent an afternoon with some of your closest friends playing a couple of fun games and eating cake.
Today’s kids are attending parties that go way beyond the simple styles of yesterday. Pick up a phone book in any major city and you will find a myriad of party locations and entertainers. If you want reptiles, you can have reptiles. Or how about a giant castle for the kids to jump around in before the ponies arrive? Or get downright ridiculous, like some parents do, and have a ballroom tea party for your preschooler or send your teenager to some exotic destination for her 16th birthday.
Every year, pressure mounts on parents to put on a celebration for their child’s birthday that is bigger and better than the year before. And every year, parents cave in.
If you’re tired of trying to top the last party, and want to return to the days of old, you’re not alone. Julie Printz of the U.S.-based group, Birthdays Without Pressure, says parents shouldn’t feel pressure to do it all. “Let’s come up with ways to do this that’s in your comfort zone, and have a broader spectrum of what’s acceptable in terms of kids’ parties.”
This informal group of parents feels that over-the-top parties are a symptom of a larger societal problem, the consumer culture of excess and entitlement. And it’s taking a toll on parents, in terms of stress, guilt and financial drains, and on kids, who may be becoming overindulged, ungrateful and materialistic.
What’s the best way to tell if your birthday parties are getting out of control? When you feel pressure to make it perfect, original, a once in a lifetime experience – every single year, says Printz.
If you are ready for change, the time is now. Here are six easy ways to take control of the birthday parties in your house.
- Involve your child. The simple task of getting your child involved in the party planning takes some of the pressure off of you and allows the party to come together more naturally. Ask your child what he really would enjoy doing. The theme and activities should “fit” your child’s interests and personality and allow him to celebrate who he is – after all, it is his birthday.
- Keep things simple. Why not have a party at home like we use to do, with kids’ games and cake. Or, if planning a home party is too much for you, consider going to a party location. But remember to stay real – don’t let the party get out of control. Pick a location that fits your budget (and do prepare a budget in advance) and your comfort level. Take advantage of the service and enjoy the party.
- Have a “no gift” party. As children get older, we can teach them that parties are about having fun with friends, not about gifts. In lieu of gifts, ask the birthday boy or girl to choose a favourite charity. Then ask party guests to support a cause that is important to your child; a great lesson for all in attendance. (For other ideas on no gift parties, go to www.birthdayswithoutpressure.org/gifts.html.)
- Don’t over-plan. When it comes to party activities, a little direction goes a long way. Keep games simple and give the kids some free time to just run around and play. Birthdays Without Pressure suggests a simple treasure hunt, sac racing and games that we remember from our own birthday parties.
- Don’t invite everyone. With class sizes on the rise, it is not practical to invite the entire class to your child’s birthday. The rule of thumb is to invite the same number of kids as your child’s age but you know your child best. If less is more, then invite only a few guests. Staying in “your” comfort zone is key.
- Lose the loot bag. Sure, a loot bag can take the sting out of watching your friend open a stack of gifts, but do we really want our kids to get the message that they are entitled to a gift every time somebody else gets one? If you really want to provide loot bags (as opposed to feeling obligated to), consider sending kids home with something they enjoyed during the party – some bubbles, mini sticks (hockey party), a deck of cards. Or, dare to be different and take a pass on the loot bags. Make a small donation in the child’s name or simply thank everyone for coming.
By making the shift to a low stress, low-pressure party, you can help your child learn that we are all unique and we shouldn’t feel pressured to keep up. As parents we have to dig deep and decide what is really important. Giving kids more doesn’t mean they will be any more satisfied. Most kids, if given the chance will pick simple and fun things to do on their birthday – and will be rewarded with joyful birthday memories for a lifetime.