Hosting the perfect party to suit your child's personality
Intimate and calm … or a big fuss?
- Milanie Niemand
Do you have a memory of your own birthday parties? I have a few I recall quite vividly. I remember the anticipation, excitement, joy, activities, cake and gifts! I also remember feeling overwhelmed and trying to hide my anxiety. I recall feeling scared that my party wasn’t good enough or wondering what the other children will think of me. I loved the way family members looked at me when they congratulated me or gave me a gift. That very special feeling, knowing that “they see me” or “they like me”. I remember being invited to other children’s parties. There was a sense of belonging as I received an invitation, but also loneliness when I did not know the other kids attending the event. Birthday parties are a big deal, there are lots of emotions, memories and sensory aspects playing off before, during and after the event.
It is therefore important to understand that every child is unique and their definition of feeling celebrated differs. Some people love a big fuss, a lot of activities and people. Others love intimacy and calmness. Neither should be superior. The wrong type of party for your child can totally miss the purpose, no matter how well planned or extravagant.
To understand what party is ideal for your child, you need to ask yourself and your child what the purpose of the party is? There are many reasons, but in my opinion it all comes down to one thing: celebrating that person. For one whole day we want to highlight our appreciation of who they are and gratefulness that they are in our lives. We want them to feel loved and wanted, because they are. Life can become so busy, running around with school tasks, activities and everything else that needs to be done, that we forget to slow down and show appreciation. A birthday (with or without a party) reminds us of that need.
There are so many things to consider besides the budget, theme, the cake. Next time a birthday is coming up, consider the following:
What is your child’s sensory profile?
You do not need an in-depth analysis to know that your child has certain sensory needs in the areas of visual, auditive, touch, taste, smell and movement. A birthday party includes all of these and can be a very sensory-rich experience! Ask yourself if your child seeks or avoids these sensory areas. They might enjoy more of one and less of another, for example he or she may seek visual input but avoid too many loud sounds. Both sensory-seeking and -avoiding kids will become overstimulated with too much sensory input. This is why it is important to know how much stimulation your child will enjoy/tolerate before they potentially have a sensory meltdown.
What does your child need in order to feel celebrated?
The planning ahead of parties are often part of the experience and it extends the time in which the child feels celebrated.
Set aside a quiet time and discuss it with your child. Their needs will change every year and they will increase in insight as they gain experience and grow older. Children from one to three years old do not know what they specifically need, so you will have to decide for them. These parties are mostly for the parents' or families' sake, or for the photo memories to show your child one day. They can be intimate and in a homely environment to ensure the child feels safe and protected.
For older kids, you can distinguish between wants and needs. Children might want an indoor play centre party because their other friend had it or they saw it on television, but your child may be a typical auditory-avoiding child who becomes over excited in the noisy acoustic of large indoor spaces. Here you can guide their decision making, referring to previous experiences, likes and dislikes. Maybe your child wants a private celebration with close family or one or two friends, maybe they want to share a big fun experience with all their friends, or maybe he or she prefers a big gift over a party.
What are the needs of your guests?
If you invite other children, it is important to think of their emotional and sensory needs too. Apart from food and entertainment, it is important to accommodate special sensory needs of your guests if possible. Communicating the location and duration of the event are the basics. For people with challenging sensory needs, as often seen in children with ADHD or autism, you will assist the parent greatly to know what to expect. They will be able to talk the child through the course of the party in advance.
Take the emotional pressure off by giving options for an invitee to opt out of activities or to do less stimulating activities without a fuss. Give them tools to include themselves if they feel lonely or excluded. Children could often lack these social skills at a young age and encouragement is beneficial.
Once you have covered these conversations with you child, you’ll be ready to start planning the perfect party, including the theme, décor and guest list!