Birthday parties & sleepovers

8 Ways to Make Your Young Child’s Party a Success

By Lexi Walters Wright

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Birthday parties can be a ton of fun! But if your young child has learning and attention issues, planning the celebration may require extra steps. Use these ideas to make your child’s party a success.

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A group of girls at a birthday party
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Keep the guest list small.

A big party may sound exciting. And your child might be tempted to invite the whole class. But limiting the guest list to only a handful of kids can make the celebration more manageable—and affordable. If your child has social skills issues, a smaller group may relieve some of the pressure and let her bond with each guest. Consider inviting one or two kids she’d like to know better along with her good friends.

Group of children having a party outdoors in a park
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Schedule wisely.

Short and sweet—that’s the ideal party for kids and parents alike. For younger kids, keep it to two hours. (Older grade-schoolers may be able to go longer). Think about the best time of day for the party. If your child is on medication and gets sleepy in the afternoon, you can opt for a late-morning weekend party. If your child gets a second wind in the early evening, consider a suppertime party.

Group of children sitting on the edge of an outdoor pool kicking, splashing and laughing
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Choose a familiar party location.

Would your child’s favorite playground or activity center be a fun party setting? If she thrives on familiarity and struggles in new situations, sticking to what she knows may be best. If you do decide to host the party somewhere new, consider visiting before the party day so your child gets used to the space. And don’t rule out having the party at home. She already feels comfortable there!

Close up of girls rolling on big beach balls
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Find a fun activity.

What does your child like to do? Put on plays? Build and decorate things? Choose an activity your child enjoys and that other kids can join in on without her feeling overwhelmed. Avoid activities that create challenges—a piñata if she has coordination issues, for example. Choose activities that make things easier, such as a bounce house if she’s hyperactive or a movie showing if she has trouble with social skills.

A group of children sitting at a table eating and  celebrating a birthday
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Serve your child’s favorite foods.

You don’t need to provide guests with a full meal if you don’t want to. Snacks—sweet and savory—are A-OK. If your child isn’t crazy about the traditional pizza and cake fare, serve up her favorites. Maybe that’s a lineup of cereals that guests can mix as they’d like. Or sundaes they can top with an array of toppings. You might want to have a few alternatives in case someone has a food allergy.

Parents and children at a birthday party
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Set the party scene.

Help your child prepare for interactions with guests on the day of the party. Give details about who will be there and what the schedule will look like. Role-play what your child can say to guests at key times such as when they arrive, when they’re playing, when it’s time to open presents and when they leave. Troubleshoot any situations that you know may arise, such as one guest being left out.

Close up of a girl opening presents at a party with two friends watching
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Talk about presents.

Nothing creates party stress like present time. So you may want to decide beforehand whether to open gifts during the party or after—especially if your child has self-control issues. You can say, “We’re not going to open gifts until everyone leaves. Then you can open them and play with everything.” Or, “When it’s time for presents, please hand me the card first. I’ll tell you who it’s from. Then you can open the gift.”

A young girl in a party hat sitting alone in a garden thinking
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Recap the party.

After everyone leaves, ask your child what was the best part of the party. Should anything have gone differently? Would she want to do the same thing next year? Help your child reflect on the party by asking: “How did other people make you feel?” and “How did you interact with others?” Reinforce social skills by creating a thank-you list together. Encourage her to take as much responsibility as possible for thanking her guests.

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About the Author

Portrait of Lexi Walters Wright

Lexi Walters Wright is a veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

Reviewed by

LPortrait of aura Tagliareni

Laura Tagliareni, Ph.D., is a pediatric neuropsychologist in New York City and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center.

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