I’m a parent who tries to infuse greater purpose into activities I do with my kid. I don’t mean in an obvious or prissy way—I’m talking about sneaking fun into a job, such as the time I directed him to whack down the bush in our yard after explaining we were planning to remove it. Given the chance to express his five-year-old zeal, my son gladly destroyed the bush AND helped me haul it to the yard waste.
A special occasion can present a chance for even weightier messaging. Every year at his birthday, I’ve approached the party planning and hosting with a greater focus than JUST HIM. I encourage him to plan the event with me, and in doing so, covertly introduce him to the social graces of being an awesome host.
Involve the Kid in the Event’s Budgeting
Throwing a party can be a show—but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Your child can know the value of hard-earned cash, and that spending is not limitless. Establish the terms with your kid and ask them to devise ways to work within the budget; home-baked cupcakes and simple decorations from the yard such as flowers or leaves are ideas that are kid-friendly and CHEAP.
If your kid insists on a theme, work with him to figure out a way to do it DIY. One year we made Minion toppers for cupcakes out of Twinkies and candy eyeballs, and the pride my son felt at their construction and presentation was beyond anything we could have bought ready-made.
Consider the Head Count and Possible Hurt Feelings
While taking the whole class to the circus would be nice, your child might have to limit who he invites. Then distribute invitations to those kids discreetly. In our house we send Evite invitations to the parents of his pals. I also remind my son not to blab to his class about his party. Hosting a party carries the responsibility of being sensitive to those you haven’t invited.
What About Gifts?
Look at a party as a celebration of a milestone, not an excuse to collect loot. Some parents discuss with their kids the idea of not receiving gifts. “I have tried to eliminate gifts without much luck,” says Amrita Huja, Seattle mom of two. “One rule is that if you accept gifts (as the birthday child), you must write a thank you note.”
Some guests like to give gifts anyway, so if you’re really trying to avoid a barrage of boxes, suggest a donation to charity instead. Angela Lee-Foster of Woodbridge, United Kingdom, suggested donations to a children’s charity in lieu of gifts for her daughter’s fifth birthday. Luckily, her kid was totally game for the idea. “She just loved having the party,” Angela recounts. “We made nearly £100 and she got a nice thank you note from the charity too.” Be sure to let your child choose the charity.
Welcome the Guests
Model being a good host. Coach your child to welcome his friends as they arrive and make sure they know where to put things, place their coat or shoes, and feel comfortable in the space. I’ve even observed my son asking one of his pals if she wanted something to drink, and he then fetched it for her. Prompting ownership of the event goes a long way toward a host child acting like a host.
Say Thank You
As guests leave, thank them for coming. And as soon as possible, sit down with your kid to write thank you notes. My son dictates a message for me to write to each friend and then he signs the cards. He should be able to express this appreciation from a young age. And when his friends receive their cards, the love keeps growing.
Incorporating bigger lessons in planning a party trains the parent, too—I’m thinking of the bigger picture of everyone’s social development and feeling like a part of a community versus a single child as the center of attention. Ultimately, instilling in your child the basics of being a host promises that he’ll be able to one day throw you a party, too.