Birthday parties

Back to school doesn’t just mean getting back to the classroom. It’s also about getting back into the social swing of things which can be difficult for some children with additional needs. As the birthday party invitations start dropping into book bags, or your own child starts to think about what they want to do for their birthday, the stress can start to build.

So we asked Lizzie from A Curious Journey to give us her top tips for stress-free birthday celebrations. As a mum to two boys aged 3 and 6, both with global developmental delay and hypermobility, Lizzie loves to share tips and tricks that may help other children feel less stressed and more confident. First up, Lizzie gives us her hacks for organising your own child’s birthday. Stay tuned tomorrow to hear all about how you can help your child feel more less anxious about their friend’s birthday parties with a little bit of planning.

Learning to do things differently

When my eldest son was a toddler, he was overwhelmed by his birthday and used to cry and throw presents across the room. He didn’t really know what a birthday was, he didn’t play with toys (so most of the presents were of no interest to him) and he was confused by the whole concept. However, something changed when he turned four and he suddenly decided he liked unwrapping presents and he became excited about parties.

Now at the age of six, Big Bear, as he is called for the purposes of my blog, looks forward to both birthdays and Christmas and even has opinions on what he would like to receive. He now enjoys opening presents so much that at Christmas he will open all his presents at a rapid pace and then want to open everyone else’s too. Someone else’s birthday? Yep, you guessed it, he wants to open their presents too.

By contrast, his three-year-old brother, Little Bear, likes to open his presents slowly, playing with each one before opening the next. Both boys have global developmental delay and hypermobility. Big Bear is under assessment for autism. Yet the way they approach birthdays is very different.

Navigating birthday celebrations can be tricky. In previous years, Big Bear has had a party with about 10 friends. Usually our NCT friends and one or two others. This year, shortly after Christmas, he declared that instead of a party, he wanted to spend his birthday (in May) at Thomas Land. Yet, I knew when it came to it, he would be expecting a party too to continue the routine of previous years. In the end, we went to Thomas Land and had a birthday tea on the actual day.

Little Bear, on the other hand, gets a bit overwhelmed by parties and the attention on him. Between the two of them, birthdays are a bit of a minefield. If you have similar issues, these tips may help you:

1. Change your expectations

Don’t force your ideas upon them of what a child’s birthday should be and instead do something that they will love.

2. Open presents slowly

If opening a lot of presents at once is too much for them, spread them out over several days. Explain to friends and family that you’re not ungrateful but they need more time to process the gift opening.

3. Keep celebrations low key

If your child is easily overwhelmed, a family day out at a place they love might be easier for them to cope with than a party. If your child is keen to have a party, keep numbers low or consider a family party/small birthday tea instead.

4. Create a running order

Use a visual timetable, social story, or write a running order down on paper to help your child visualise what is going to happen at each stage of the party/celebration. Talk through the decorations, who will be there, what games you’ll play, what food you’ll eat etc so they know exactly what to expect.

5. Keep parties short

Your child might like the idea of having a party but the reality might be quite stressful for them. Keeping parties to 1.5-2 hours long will minimise the risk of overwhelm and meltdown.

Thanks to Lizzie for sharing her top tips, what do you do to make sure your child has the best birthday for them? Make sure you check back tomorrow to hear more from Lizzie about how a little planning goes a long way when it comes to attending other children’s birthday parties.