You love your sweet, shy, sensitive baby more than words can express and want to celebrate their birthday with a lovely party! How do you strike a balance between challenging some of the not-so-great, clingy, avoidant, shyness behaviours while respecting the boundaries and natural preferences that make your child so awesome and unique?
There are some specific strategies parents can employ to create a fantastic party that will be an enjoyable and positive experience for EVERYONE involved. There are also some definite don’ts where this topic is concerned. Mindful party planning will either gently coax your little one out of their shell, or be a negative experience that could be quite stressful for them.
Home Party vs. An Outing
The first thing to consider: a home party or an outing. There is no right or wrong here: some children will find the comfort and security of being on home-turf to have a reassuring effect, while others are horrified at the thought of their peers messing up their stuff! Some children greatly anticipate an outing. Taking the party off-site will have everyone focussed on a shared activity, thereby taking unwanted attention off of the reluctant guest of honour. For other kids, being somewhere new with a group of friends is really just too overwhelming for them to manage. There is no right or wrong choice here. It is an individual preference. The bottom line? Communication is key.
Ideas for home parties include, hiring an entertainer to visit, hiring a mobile video game truck, showing a movie, doing crafts, or arranging traditional party games, (who doesn’t love Pin the Tail on the Donkey!).
Outings may involve booking an indoor playground, attending the movies, a science centre or planetarium, a children’s museum, a restaurant, an escape room, shopping at the mall or playing in a park.
Empower your child by handing some of the decision-making over to them!
Mistake #1: The (excited and well-meaning!) extroverted parent plans the entire party
Instead: Your child should have an active role in planning their party
Having a sense of involvement in the party planning will give your child a sense of confidence, (and hopefully even excitement!) about the upcoming party. Inviting your child to help create the list of party foods that will be served will feel safe and reassuring.
Even more importantly, your child should create the guest list. Many introverts prefer socializing in small groups of close friends. Having the entire class over at once could be far too overwhelming for some. An intimate gathering might feel much more manageable and therefore much more FUN for the birthday chid. Some experts recommend inviting the same number of guests that the chid is turning in age, (a three year old may have three guests for example). These are simply guidelines! There is no right or wrong, only what feels comfortable and makes the experience joyful for your child! If the plan stops sounding fun to your child, scale it down!
Mistake #2: Too much pressure is put on the birthday child to be the center of attention
Instead: Create a party that will allow them to blend into the woodwork if they want to
Thanking each guest at the door might be too much pressure on your shy child. Consider having them sign their own thank you cards that could be handed out later. Reducing pressure to “socially perform” beyond what they are able, will help your child find their social confidence faster. Patience is key. And celebrating baby steps.
Is your chid mortified by the Happy Birthday Song and hates having everyone stare at them while they blow out their candles? Scrap that whole bit! Just serve dessert minus the fuss if that feels better. There is no format that must be followed. Make it work for your child.
If you have hired an entertainer, let them know ahead of time that your child wants to enjoy the show as part of the audience and doesn’t want to be singled out. A great entertainer will let the child come forward to volunteer if that type of attention is welcomed. Sometimes even the shyest kids surprise us when they first feel comfortable and safe!
Mistake #3: The introverted parent plans a party that is completely outside of their comfort zone
Instead: Keep it real. Host what you can joyfully manage.
It is perfectly fine to scale down your celebration from some of the elaborate parties showcased on social media! Kids have fun when parents are happy and relaxed. Hosting a craft party, if you’re totally stressed by mess makes no sense at all. The stress trickles down from the parent to the birthday child, and the party will not be so fun.
If the thought of having 15 eight-year-olds in your living room gives you hives, take the show on the road! Hire the local community center room and then ENJOY the celebration. Party planning has to work for the whole family!
Mistake #4: Forgetting to praise small efforts
Instead: Look for opportunities to praise social behaviour
Small steps lead to big changes! Taking your shy child to one side and praising the eye-contact they made, or the friendly greeting they gave a friend or the spontaneous thank you for a gift received will encourage more of that behaviour in the future! Parties are a fun way to practice socializing!
Mistake #5: Not preparing your child ahead of time Instead: Practice, rehearse and mentally prepare This is a huge one we did with our son when he was young. He has autism and felt comforted by knowing what to expect ahead of time. Not only did we discuss the order of events in detail ahead of time, we rehearsed what he should say when he received a gift. And then we rehearsed what he should say if he received a gift he already owned. And then we rehearsed what he should say if he received a gift he didn’t particularly like… Arming him ahead of time with the script gave him confidence and allowed him to succeed. None of us like to be put on the spot, and having the correct answers ahead of time helps reduce party-time anxiety. Even our shyest kids grow and evolve each year, which is why the plan should be renegotiated and reinvented each birthday! Scaling down the event and helping the birthday child manage her/his expectations will create a successful party that will result in positive feelings about socializing again in the future! It can’t be forced or rushed, so don’t be afraid to be unconventional with your planning while at the same time helping gently stretch your child’s limitations.
Paula Presswood is a former teacher turned entrepreneur. She can mostly be found blogging, doing yoga, drinking tea, chasing around after her three teenagers and sampling delicious appetizers with her crazy magician husband. She is Co-founder of Presswood Entertainment and The Thoughtfull Board. Follow Paula on instagram