We’ve all seen it… that child who tries to “help” the birthday boy or girl unwrap their presents. The one who yells out that the cake is “gross,” or who throws a fit because he or she ends up on the losing team during a party game. The last thing you want is for YOUR child to ruin half of the party with their poor manners and bad attitude. Hopefully these tips will help you to avoid your child becoming THAT child after you drop them off.
Anticipate Trouble Spots
If you think (or know) that your child has issues at parties, those issues need to be identified. Here are some common birthday party issues:
- Not Going First — This may be not going first in a game or not getting served food first.
- Not Sitting in Desired Place — Usually this is most pronounced when everyone sits down for cake. Your child may be upset if they don’t sit next to the birthday boy/girl or their best friend.
- Unhappy With the Food — Sometimes the “wrong” flavor of ice cream, cake, or other food can be upsetting to your child.
- Unhappy With a Game — Maybe your child is a sore loser, or maybe he or she wanted to be on a different team for a game, or maybe he or she just plain doesn’t like that particular game.
- Unhappy at Present Time — Sometimes it’s hard for children to not be the center of attention. (Let’s face it, a big part of growing up for children is learning that the world doesn’t revolve around them!) A child may be upset with their friend getting more attention, at seeing their friend open presents that they would like to have, or if his or her present is not opened first (or “next,” or last).
Also, if you know your child has issues at parties, don’t be afraid to call the host ahead of time and ask for specific information about the party to better anticipate potential trouble spots.
Visualize Trouble Spots
Now that you’ve anticipated potential problems, one of the best ways to deal with them is to have your child discuss problems they might have and help them visualize solutions.
Instead of assuming your child will be upset with certain things, ask in curiosity what your child thinks will happen at the party. You can help them brainstorm by asking leading questions. Do you think there will be a cake and ice cream or just cake? What games do you think they’ll play?
Asking questions can help reveal your child’s expectations for the party. If you can see that your child is getting overly excited about something, that could signal a potential trouble spot. For example, if your child sounds very excited about sitting next to the birthday boy or girl while singing “Happy Birthday”, then that is an area to address.
After identifying potential problems, one of the best tactics is to ask your child what happens if they don’t get to do what they are looking forward to. Again, feign curiosity. “Hmmm. That sounds like fun, but there are going to be lots of children at the party… what happens if someone else sits where you want to sit?” Then, guide your child to finding a solution to the potential meltdown. In this case, you can remind your child how often they see the friend outside of the party. Or, promise that a play-date can be set-up for one-on-one time with the friend if they feel neglected at the party.
Non-Party Related Issues
There are also problems that can stem from issues that are unrelated to the party itself. These should be handled ahead of time.
Hunger — Being hungry can frequently lead to being “hangry” (hungry + angry). Adding this to normal party excitement and emotions can be a recipe for trouble. Feed your child a healthy meal before they attend (preferably one low in sugar since children get plenty of sugar at parties).
Energy — A tired child is often less capable of emotional self-control. Try to have your child be adequately rested for the party if you know this is an issue. This may mean ensuring your child gets a good night sleep the night before and/or having a low-key morning so that your child isn’t over-tired for an afternoon party.
Practice at Family Parties
It takes time for children to learn proper party etiquette. If you have family nearby, family parties are a great place to practice. Just because their grandma or uncle is okay with bending the party rules, that doesn’t mean you have to. Stick to the rules and turn family parties into a learning experience.
In addition to identifying and visualizing trouble spots ahead of time, at a family party, you and your child can see and tackle issues together. When trouble starts, get down to your child’s level and re-emphasize some of the points from your previous party conversation. If necessary, pull your child aside to help he or she regain perspective and/or calm down if necessary.
“Rewinding” is another great technique. If things start going wrong, you can talk about the issue with your child, then give them a “do-over” of the situation to reapply proper party manners.
Tips for the Host
If you are unfortunate enough to have meltdowns and tantrums rear their ugly head at your child’s birthday party, all is not lost! Here are a few pointers to help save the party:
- Don’t Host Alone — If possible, make sure that your spouse and/or a few close family or friends stay for the party. You can ask ahead of time for their help if things start to spiral out of control.
- Set Physical Boundaries — For example, you can have a special chair for the birthday boy or girl while they open presents, or explain to the mobbing guests that “everyone stays behind this line while presents are opened.”
- Include Left-Out Children — You cannot please everyone all of the time, so it’s inevitable that some children are going to feel left out. Try to find something different for these children to do to avoid hurt feelings.
Keeping children’s parties from turning into a headache isn’t always easy, but teaching proper party etiquette will reap benefits for years to come. As a final note, if you know your child has severe issues at parties, don’t drop them off to be the host’s problem; stay to help the host, your child, and the other party-goers have a positive party experience.
Need some more tips on party manners?
Read A Beginner’s Guide to Manners: Invitations and RSVPs.
Photo Credits: Ashley