Better Birthday Parties

Help your child with attention deficit celebrate and enjoy — without letting the fun get out of hand.


Filed Under: ADHD Social Skills, ADHD Kids Making Friends
ADHD boy celebrates his third birthday party, surrounded by family and friends.

Many parents of quirky children, including those with ADHD, end up being the ones hanging around, just in case the bowling, Murray the Magician, or the wild and crazy treasure hunt goes awry.

   
 

How Your Child Can Join the Party

You almost never see a child meet new children by introducing himself and shaking hands. Children make new acquaintances by joining others who are playing. Some children don't know how to do this and avoid it. Others join in, but do it in a way that alienates others. Here's what you can coach your child to do at his or her next party:

> Stand near two people you might like to meet who are talking to each other. Look at them and say nothing; just listen.

> If they are talking about something interesting, stick around. If not, move on. You won't hurt anyone's feelings if you move on.

> If you're still hanging around, notice whether the kids conversing start looking at you while they're talking. If so, they have invited you into their conversation ("opened the circle").

> If they don't look at you, they probably want to be alone. You won't hurt anyone's feelings if you walk away. Rules of etiquette protect everyone's feelings.

— Fred Frankel, Ph.D.

 
   

Everybody has birthdays — and most children have parties. As your child ages, depending on her social skills and her social milieu, she may have to face the heartbreak of not being invited. But while she's small, you are in fact more likely to have to face the heartbreak — or at least the stress — of her being invited and having to go and behave. Some children don't like birthday parties at all. We know one boy whose mother says no to all party invitations — but most children will want to go to a party, even if it poses a tough social challenge to them.

"My son was invited to a birthday party," says one mom, "and he really wanted to go because he liked the kid, and it turned out it was a laser-tag birthday party. It was just too much: loud, dark, really scary — and he will never do that again. If it's a pool party at the Y, he's not gonna go because he hates water, or he'll just go at the end, for the cake. We have to allow him the choice and help explain when he doesn't want to attend."

Certain parts of children's birthday parties are ritualized. You can help your child prepare for those, from the blowing-out-the-candles-and-singing moments to the good-bye and thank you, I had a very nice time — which has to be nudged by parental prompting for nine out of 10 children. But it can be hard to predict the games, the activities, or the entertainment. This is why many parents of quirky children, including those with ADHD, end up being the ones hanging around, just in case the bowling, Murray the Magician, or the wild and crazy treasure hunt goes awry.

Small Child? Small Party

Keep your child's birthday parties small when he is small. Invite grandparents, siblings, a favorite baby-sitter, a couple of playmates. The experience of being the center of attention is overwhelming for many quirky kids, and the social responsibilities that fall to the host — saying the occasional thank-you, not winning all the prizes, not biting anyone — can be too demanding.

Take Bigger Parties Out of the Home

As your child gets a little older, you may find yourself having to invite the whole class--or at least, all the boys or all the girls. You should consider some kind of short and ritualized party outside the home, if there is a venue that your child finds pleasant — a pizza party, a party at the science museum, a party in a fast-food restaurant.

Most children nowadays seem to be so conditioned to such parties that they arrive knowing exactly what to do, eager to see that IMAX movie or the dancing rat, depending on the place. They depart feeling they have gotten exactly what they came for, and you don't have to deal with the question of whether you gave a weird party even though your kid is, well, weird.

These parties allow you to maintain family privacy by keeping strangers out of the home and eliminating the possibility that a visiting child might, for example, discover the personal hygiene sticker charts on your upstairs bathroom wall or the Barbie doll collection in a house where all the children are boys. Children who don’t have to entertain in their homes don't have to watch other children handle their possessions.

From Quirky Kids, by PERRI KLASS, M.D., and EILEEN COSTELLO, M.D. Copyright © 2003. by Perri Klass and Eileen Costello. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine Books. All rights reserved.

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This article appears in the Spring 2013 issue of ADDitude.
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