by Chris Molnar
As you looked at your baby years ago, you may have had a hard time imagining this time coming. It may be hard to believe, but your little baby has suddenly blossomed into a preschooler! As if you didn't have constant reminders of that on a daily basis, they have now reached a rather large milestone - they have been invited to their very first birthday party!
This isn't a party for a family member, but rather a party for a friend at daycare or preschooler. They are old enough and independent enough to have made their own friends, whether or not you know their family.
So what are you to do as a parent? You may feel as though your world as you know it is suddenly different, as you may not know the proper etiquette. Fortunately there are some very standard things to expect, and some things that you may want to keep in mind….just in case!
Find Out the Format
It's so important to both you and your child to find out the format and the flow of the party. If you don't know the parent that's hosting it, then make it a point of calling and introducing yourself.
It can be really helpful to know if adults are invited along with their kids. Is there the expectation that you are supposed to be there with your child, and you just drop them off? Alternatively, if it's a party at a special place such as a bowling alley or the movies and it's meant only for the kids, your presence may not be required.
For smaller kids, say age 3-5, you will likely stay with your child – after all, if this is their first party, and it's additionally at a stranger's house, it may overwhelm them (and you!) The party host or hostess will certainly accommodate you, especially if you let them know ahead of time.
Managing Your Expectations
While you may be beside yourself thinking of your child walking into the world of big kid parties, they are likely not going to make a big deal out of it. So before you go wild with worry or anticipation, be honest and realistic in your expectations of the big event.
You do want to be realistic about how your child may act at the birthday party. If they have separation anxiety or tend to be on the shy side, then prepare yourself that they may act out a bit or may wish to stay with you. Younger children (3 and 4) may not yet understand that the birthday gifts are not for them, so be ready for minor "gimmies." This would be a good time to teach them about gift-giving, and make comparisons to their own birthday party.
If you need to leave but your child is unsure, stay for ten or fifteen minutes, and your child will likely begin to interact with the other kids. Encourage them along the way and let them know that you'll be there as soon as the party is over - be sure that they are aware that you are only a phone call away, and that this is a happy and fun occasion.
With my own 4-year old daughter, she insisted I stay. As the room was small and no other parents remained, I stayed for about twenty minutes, and by then she was deep into a party craft. I let her know that I would "be back soon," and she had no problems when I left. (Heck, I'm not sure if she noticed!)
If they act up a lot, make them aware that they must be on their best behavior, and that when you are not around, he or she must listen to the parent or adult hosting the party. It's important that kids of all ages know that attending a party is a privilege and not an expectation on their part.
Dress the Part and Come Bearing Gifts
Be sure that you dress your child for the occasion. You don't want them to be the most casual child there, but you don't want to overdress them either. Dress them for the occasion, and if they are going to get dirty or be playing outside, then plan accordingly. Kids want to blend in, especially when they are attending their first party of this type.
Be sure that you also send them with a nice gift. While you don't want to spend an unreasonable amount of money, you do want it to show that you put some thought into it. This may set a precedent for future parties that your child is invited to, so be sure that the gift is generous without going overboard.
With a bit of planning and some careful thought, you can make your child's first friend birthday party a great success, and sets their behavior and expectations up for future celebrations.
Chris Molnar is a writer, proud Dad of two preschool kids, and contributes theme party ideas to various websites. He is editor of Themeaparty.com, and is getting ready for a Yo Gabba Gabba party for his eldest.
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