Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Birthday Celebration or Birthday Disaster?

Each year parents all over the country must come up with a new and entertaining way to celebrate their children's birthdays. Some parents try to outdo others by throwing extravagant galas and spending a lot of money. Others try to come up with economical ways to mark their child's special day. Still others quietly celebrate with a friend or two or with only family members. There are so many ways to celebrate, that it can be difficult to decide exactly what to do. When you are planning your child's birthday party, keep in mind that it should be entertaining, and it should also have at least some great food. After all, what is a celebration without food?!

When you are in the beginning stages of birthday planning, the first thing that you really need to consider is the age of your child. If she is very young, birthday celebrations can be quite overwhelming. In fact, it isn't uncommon for one and two-year olds to cry at least at some point during their party. What you might think is entertaining may actually hold an entirely different meaning for your child.

For example, most parents order that perfectly adorable birthday cake decorated in some sort of theme. Maybe it is made in the shape of a popular storybook or television character, or maybe it has an actual picture of the child on the top of it. Then, parents make sure to add what is now known as a "smash cake". The definition of smash cake isn't hard to understand. How well this cake is received may well be a different story, however.

One year old babies may already be overwhelmed at the amount of people and the commotion that their party brings. When you add a smash cake to the mix, it may be more than your child can take. After all, she is probably use to an orderly routine, and here she is surrounded by people all talking and laughing. Many of these people may simply be strangers, at least in baby's eyes. Why are they all here? Who are all of these people? Why are they so loud? Why do they all want to touch and hold me? All of these thoughts may be going through your child's head. Of course, she probably can't articulate those thoughts yet, and that is where your job as a parent comes in.

If you follow common procedure, you hand your baby her smash cake, and she may stare at it and then look at you as if to say, "What am I suppose to do with this?" Then, you or some other helpful party attendee will promptly put her hands in the cake and encourage her to make a mess. Now, keep in mind that on any other occasion that she sits in her high chair to eat, you probably keep a napkin or cloth close by to clean her up regularly. In fact, if you are a neat-freak, you may even keep her from getting her hands and face dirty at all! That is until now!

All of a sudden, you want her to cover herself in crumbs and icing? How confusing is this for baby?! No wonder she tries to shake the crumbs from her hands and may even proceed to rub her bewildered eyes, spreading icing everywhere! No wonder she then breaks down into tears! Is this then a celebration? Of course, then out comes the cloths or napkins, and baby is quickly lifted from her chair to be comforted. Some party, huh? However, over and over this same scenario is repeated in households in every town. We just can't help ourselves.

Ask yourself this question. Whose celebration is it anyway? Whose birthday is it? Don't you want to celebrate your birthday the way you choose? It is your special day, right? Then why do we expect our babies to celebrate the way we choose, which may be the exact opposite of what they prefer?

Well, what would a baby prefer? Babies need routines, naps, and quiet time. They need to be comforted, and they feel their best in familiar surroundings. OK, there you have it. That is all you need to know to plan a party that your baby can enjoy. First, think about your baby's routine. Do you really want to plan a party right in the middle of his naptime? What's the point? If he is tired and cranky, will he be able to enjoy his party? Will you? So, it is important to plan a party that coordinates with his naptime. If he typically takes a nap at 2:00, then plan his party for late afternoon, say 4:30 or so.

Routines also include mealtimes. You don't want your baby's main meal to be cake and ice cream, so try and plan the party after he has already had at least a healthy snack. If your baby generally sleeps in the morning from 9:00 to around 11:00, go ahead and let him nap, then feed him lunch, and then plan his party for around 12:30 or so. He is the person you should plan around, and you really shouldn't worry about anyone else.

Who should be at the party? Well, you may have a huge extended family, and they may all expect to be there. Obviously, you don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, and if you can't keep the party small, you can at least keep it under control. Does a one year old really want to go to a busy pizza place with electronic games and rides? I seriously doubt it! Where is your baby the most secure? Your answer is probably your home. If you are worried about having enough room, maybe you can have a party outside. If the weather won't cooperate, you at least have a great excuse for not having a large party. You can tell people that you wanted to have your child's party at home, and there simply isn't enough room for you to invite everyone. How can they argue with that?

Ideally, the best rule to stick to when deciding on the number of children to invite to a party is to invite the same amount of children that coordinates with the age of the child. So, if that is the case, a one year old baby should have one child to invite, right? Ok, maybe that is a little unrealistic, but you get the picture. When your child reaches four and five years of age, however, it begins to make much more sense.

First and second birthday parties are not the time to introduce your child to a lot of strangers. Things will be chaotic enough as it is, and your baby may be feeling insecure. If you surround her with people that she isn't very familiar with, and they all want to touch and hold her, how do you expect her to react? Of course, there are always those extroverted children who actually bask in all of the attention, but there are probably more children who are disturbed by it than those who aren't.

A birthday party is not the time to invite all of these people who normally don't come to your house. Instead, keep it small and relatively quiet, and you may not have to deal with a crying toddler who clings to you like a little monkey. If you simply must invite the neighbors and your co-workers, as well as Aunt Debbie and Uncle Bob, please caution them against trying to grab your child the minute they meet him. You can very politely explain that your baby is rather shy, and it will take him a while to warm up to them. Ask them to let him make the first move instead of it being the other way around. Of course, you will still probably have to come to his rescue, but maybe you have prevented a little of the stress that will inevitably come with his party.

Finally, keep the length of your baby's party to a minimum. The party should be long enough to enjoy some cake and ice cream. (You probably want to seriously forgo the smash cake, however!) Then, you can help your child open presents. Don't be surprised if he is just as fascinated with the wrapping paper and bows. If he has a lot of presents he may not know where to start, so simply put some away till later. Let people take a few pictures, and then end the party. Once everyone has left, you and your baby can enjoy some quiet time before he goes down for a much deserved nap. Later, pull out one or two toys at a time and quietly play with your child. Hopefully, you and he have survived the party, and maybe enjoyed it, too!

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