Every kid loves a birthday party, right? Nope! For a shy or introverted child, big noisy parties are often events to be dreaded instead of celebrated. So how can parents mark these important milestones in their child’s life in a way that makes everyone happy? First of all, you know your child best. Careful listening and discussion will reveal what your birthday child needs and wants in a celebration.
The home field advantage. Some kids will feel most comfortable in their own home with a few chosen relatives and friends. Hold a small dinner party with the birthday child’s favorite meal as the main dish. You can still make an intimate gathering special with decorations, a fun game or two, plus a birthday cake or cupcakes.
Keep it small. Introverted kids often prefer to have one or two close friends instead of a gaggle of playmates. “We keep parties very small, with three or four friends at most,” says Alycia, mom of a shy daughter.
A simple playdate, for example, with a couple of friends at home could be the perfect birthday celebration for your child. Plan one or two activities, serve cake or cupcakes, and call it done!
Mom Nancy described her experience when she threw her three-year-old introvert a birthday party with five other preschoolers: “It was the worst party... She cried, I believe she hit one of her friends, and by the end of the party, I was crying, too. Now that she is older and I’m more trusting of my own instincts, I ask her what she wants, and she plans every party with my help.”
‘Don’t look at me!’ Present-opening and the “Happy Birthday” song can be excruciating experiences for kids who hate having all eyes on them. An easy solution is to have the child open the gifts later, after the guests have gone home. Just make sure you or your child sends thank-you notes so the friends know that their gift was appreciated.
The candles, cake, and birthday song present a more difficult problem, because this practice is so expected.
Many kids don’t like cake, so serving a non-traditional treat such as doughnuts or ice cream can be a hit (a bonus is that guests won’t expect candles).
If you do serve cake, make a dramatic entrance by carrying the cake into the room as the guests sing, so that all eyes are on the cake instead of the birthday child. Or dispense with the candles and song entirely. Before the event, let your child blow out the candles with just the family present. Take a picture to preserve the memory, then cut up the dessert. Handing out slices of cake or cupcakes at the party can circumvent the expected singing and candles.
Games or no games? Planning with your child is crucial to a happy birthday. Let them choose what activities they would like to do. Sometimes just free play in the backyard is plenty, and won’t put anyone in the spotlight. On the other hand, a busy schedule of games and activities can be helpful to a kid who would prefer less pressure to interact with their peers. Again, let the birthday kid choose; they will know what is most comfortable for them.
“My shy daughter always liked parties where there were things to distract guests,” says mom Gretchen. “The attention had been drawn away from her and the activity became the emphasis. I never had games that [kids] won prizes for because [Gretchen] hated the tension of competition.”
Get out of the house. Some kids prefer not to have a lot of people on their home turf. Mom Tiffany held a party for her shy daughter outside of their home. “Having a bunch of girls in her ‘space’ or room seemed stressful to her,” she says. “My daughter loved having a movie party. They had junk food, and we didn’t open presents in front of the crowd. They had a blast in the theatre and it was no pressure.”
Sometimes it’s easier when all of the partygoers are engaged in an organized activity outside of the home. Try an art-making party at a ceramics or painting studio. Bowling, a science museum, or laser-tag space, for example, are other options for those kids who don’t mind a noisy atmosphere. Taking a few friends to the movies is another fun birthday treat.
Lastly, remember who the party is for. It can be hard for an extroverted parent who is looking forward to throwing a birthday blowout to scale down their expectations. By careful planning and listening, your shy child can still have a celebration to remember that makes everyone happy.
Tiffany is a freelance writer and mother of three creative kids.
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