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Party Pooper Prevention

Keep birthday party behavior happy

If, as the classic childhood ditty has it, every party really does have a pooper, how do you prevent drama from ruining your child’s birthday party?

Parents today invest considerable effort, time and money into planning the “perfect party.” With expectations so high, a host’s day can be particularly stressful even before you factor in the possibility that young or sensitive guests will act out or melt down amid all the excitement.

These eight steps will help you prepare for a tear-free party where the kids behave and the enjoyment level remains high for every attendee — you included.

  1. How many guests? When sending out invitations, follow the classic rule of your child’s age plus one. Not many 3-year-olds can handle the stimulation of a huge party. A short guest list limits the potential for emotional overload.
  2. Timing is everything. Schedule the festivities during your child’s peak times. Avoid naptime for toddlers. Plan a morning event for early birds. And if your tween gets cranky when she’s overtired, steer her away from the idea of a slumber party.
  3. Outsource the site. After watching daughter Tatiana get stirred up by all the pre-party prep, only to pitch a tantrum during the big event, mom Shandy Tilley stopped throwing parties at home. “Having parties offsite allowed us to have a real start and finish time,” she explains. “It made the transition easier for Tatiana if everyone came to  and left the party at the same time.”
  4. Present prep. Manage your child’s expectations about presents to prevent an embarrassing or hurtful response to an unwanted gift. To avoid a random “I hate it” or “I already have that,” role-play a couple of days before the party. Put silly things like a can of peas or a pair of socks into a box. Then have your child open it and respond graciously with the requisite “thank you.”
  5. Out-of-the-box gift openings. Who says presents must be opened only after the cake is cut? My son pushed back at this concept one year and we let him open his gifts as guests arrived. This freed him to enjoy the planned activities instead of bothering us every two minutes to ask when he could rip open all those glorious gift-wrapped boxes. This tactic also allows the giver to have some one-on-one attention when her gift is opened.
  6. Don’t pit guests against each other. If your child’s buddies tend to rough-house, stay away from physical group games. Even age-appropriate activities such as musical chairs can backfire if you’ve got a competitive crowd that gets riled up easily.
  7. Overplan. You’d be surprised how quickly kids finish with party games and crafts. Plan more activities than you think you need to make sure every minute of party time is accounted for. Remember, every free second you give guests is an opportunity to misbehave. (Get craft, snack and game ideas here.)
  8. No peer pressure. Neighborhood “supermoms” set a high bar when it comes to parties. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses; just invite them along in good humor and know that the key to success is to plan a party that’s tailored to your child’s personality and interests, not theirs. And if tears do perchance occur, take heart; it will all seem funny at the parties you’ll throw in years to come.

Sue LeBreton is a freelance writer and mom of two. She is always happy to survive a birthday party without tears.

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