By Denise Olson

The theme is perfect, the food is planned, and the invitations are sent out. Nothing could sabotage this perfect party, right? Wrong. Part of what makes people enjoy a party is having fun and interacting together. As the “star of the show” your child and her behavior have the potential to make or break a party for others. The scary truth is that if you have not taught your child proper party etiquette before the party starts he or she could ruin the experience for you and the party invitees, turning what should be happy memories into embarrassing situations. Don’t despair, however, there’s still time. Just follow these five simple tips to head off potential problems before they start.

Problem Number One
The guests have begun to arrive but your son is nowhere to be found. He is too busy checking out the venue, eyeing the stacks of gifts, or playing with a favorite relative or friend to greet partygoers as they arrive.
» The Solution
Before the party starts, explain to him some basic expectations for when guests arrive. Let him know that because the party is for him, he will be expected to interact with all the guests, which includes greeting them individually when they arrive for the party. If you child is young, try playacting the situation. Have some of his toys come for a “party” and encourage him to greet them as they “arrive.”

Problem Number Two
It’s party game time and your daughter is eliminated in the first round. Instead of waiting for the other children to finish playing the game, she begins to cry loudly, complaining that she should win because it’s her birthday.
» The Solution
Since losing a game at her own party could be a shock to her, help her understand this possibility before it happens. Have her help plan the games, or at least explain how they work before she has to play them. If the games you choose have winners and losers, ask her how she would feel if she did not win. Most children will be willing to lose a few times if they really like the game, especially if they know in advance this could happen, but others will still be really resistant. If your daughter doesn’t feel like she could handle a competitive game, try to replace the games with other activities such as crafts or cooperative activities with no winners or losers.

Problem Number Three
Your son gets the first slice of cake and the first scoop of ice cream because he’s the birthday boy, but all too soon he is demanding seconds and whining to do another activity before you have finished serving all the other guests.
» The Solution
Although table manners are something that is always important to a child’s social well being, they are particularly crucial before a major event. Well before the party, start using family dinner or playacting to encourage your son to sit and wait for others to be served, as well as eat politely. Explain that it is best not to eat until everyone is served, but if he cannot wait to eat, he should at least refrain from leaving his seat, asking for seconds, or distracting the person serving until everyone has food.

Problem Number Four
Your child is eagerly tearing the paper off of her party gift when she spies something familiar. “Hey, Mom,” she exclaims, “I’ve already got a bigger one of these!”
» The Solution
It is always best to do a little explaining and role-playing before the party to head off this embarrassing situation. Ask your daughter how she would feel if a friend didn’t like her gift. Then explain that there will be situations when she may not like a gift, but will not want to hurt another child’s feelings. Role play situations where she receives duplicate gifts or clothing and toys that just aren’t her style. Encourage her to think of what she will say and do to preserve the feelings of the other person involved. She may surprise you with her creativity! Also, never forget to teach her to say “thank you” each time she receives a gift, no matter how small.

Problem Number Five
Guests are beginning to leave and your son is feeling the stress. With every friend that goes home, he is getting more sad and emotional. He wishes they could stay, and he doesn’t want the party to be over.
» The Solution
If you child is old enough to understand time, show him the time that the party will begin and the time the party will end. Tell him he will not want the party to end, but will need a chance to take a break from his friends and play with his new toys. Then, if he starts acting up you can remind him of what he already knows. At this point, however, he may just be overwhelmed and exhausted so have another exit strategy. For example, have a relative in charge of bringing him home, just in case he needs to leave before you’ve taken everything down.
There you have it—simple advice for teaching and explaining etiquette rules before the party. Although no list could possibly troubleshoot every embarrassing situation, these suggestions could help you avoid some common problems. Besides, isn’t having fun is what birthday parties are all about? Happy party planning! n

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