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Right Sized Birthday Party

Right Sized Birthday Party

Planning a birthday party for your kid always has the goldilocks principle at play; you don’t want it to be too much, or too little, but just right. Which is not always an easy thing to pull off.

Have you ever taken your kid to a birthday party and felt your stomach drop when you show up? Maybe it’s the full-scale petting zoo, food that’s nicer than most of the restaurants you eat at, or goody bag they gave your kid that cost more than the car you drove up in. Or maybe you felt a pit in your stomach because you think you must compete with all of that to show your kid how much you love them.

Don’t get me wrong, birthday parties are great. I can still remember camping trips with friends, crowded swimming pools, and my family getting together to celebrate me as a kid. But something seems to have happened. Birthday parties do not seem to always celebrate the kid.

It may go without saying, but we live in a culture of entitlement. As a professional counselor, I’ve worked with nearly every kind of issue a human can face. And believe it or not, entitlement is one of the most toxic and difficult to cure. In his book ‘The Entitlement Cure’, Dr. John Townsend defines entitlement as “the belief that I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment.”

How do we avoid fanning the flames of entitlement in our kids? Simply put, by not avoiding hard things. Even at their birthday parties. Often, by rescuing our kids from their own disappointments, we fail to teach them how to be responsible for their emotions. Again, wanting to celebrate your child is a great thing. It’s not wanting to say no that gets you into trouble.

As you plan your child’s birthday party, here are a few questions to help you get it right sized:

Who is this party for? Who or what is really being celebrated? Am I avoiding negative feelings by saying yes to something? What am I worried about happening if I say no? What is the actual point of this party?

Dr. Townsend goes on to say, “You have to learn the difference between a need, which should be met, and an entitled desire, which should be starved.” Your kids needs to feel safe, secure, and loved. They do not need a birthday party that could be aired on TLC. While you wrestle with finding that balance between celebration and entitlement, here are a few helpful tips.

Celebrate the small stuff. A birthday party should not be the only time your child feels valued. Focus on celebrating achievements throughout the year that took real time and effort and celebrate your child’s character as well as achievements.

Focus the party on relationships. I cannot remember a single gift I received as a kid, but I can remember playing with friends, seeing the smiles on my parents faces, and the feeling of joy from having a bunch of friends surrounding me while I opened their gifts.

Allow your child to be disappointed. In all the books, articles, and research I have ever read about childhood development, getting disappointed has never even been mentioned as a potentially negative issue. However, parents having a lack of boundaries has often been cited as detrimental. Helping your child deal with the emotions of momentary pain is far easier than untangling them from a lifetime of entitlement.

Develop traditions. For whatever reason, my kids don’t like cake. But they do like cookies. So, we started making big cookies and decorating them with whatever design they picked out. This was not high-end art, but it was time spent focused on celebrating our kids. Allow traditions to develop that are specific to your family.

The party should reflect your kid. What are some of your kids’ favorite things, books, foods, activities, games and shows? Try not to worry about making other kids happy, but instead think about how to make much of the things you love about your kid.

By celebrating your child, rather than trying to make them or others happy, you will help root them in a sense of who they are and how they are loved, which is far greater than even the most epic party.

Branden Henry is gratefully married with four kids. He is a licensed counselor and marriage and family therapist in Ridgeland. He specializes in relationships and recovery from addiction and trauma. To reach him visit

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