By Kerrie McLoughlin

A birthday party may look like just a birthday party to you now, but what I see is a setting for life lessons kids can learn that will carry them through their lives to help make them successful, happy and kind. Aren’t those things that we really want for our kids anyway? Read on to check out a few teaching opportunities for your child’s next birthday party.

Inclusiveness. It might not always be possible to just invite your child’s closest friends. Maybe their school has a policy about birthday party invitations that’s all about including everyone so hurt feelings are kept at a minimum. Maybe your child has cousins who are younger or older or neighbors of all ages who are also their friends. If you’re okay with “the more the merrier,” then include young and old at this shin-dig and pop in your earplugs!

Gratefulness. Nobody wants to hear “I already have this” or “I didn’t want this” when they give someone a gift. Likewise, kids should not be opening gifts at breakneck speed and tossing them over their shoulders like they are rocks. Your kid should always be saying “thank you” sincerely and looking the gift giver in the eye. Some parents have their kid sit in a chair while they open the gift while sitting right next to the gift giver so they can have a moment together to have some appreciation shown and a picture taken.

Graciousness and disappointment. I’m lumping these two together because they seem to go hand in hand. The birthday child gets disappointed by not getting something they really wanted or sometimes not getting anything they wanted at all during the entire party. That’s when it’s time to step in and talk about how disappointment is okay, but that we should be gracious about it. It’s kind of like being a sore loser versus being a happy loser; even though there is disappointment going on, you want your kid to learn how to still say thank you and show appreciation for the gift giver’s time and money or skills that went into the gift.

Consideration. Yes, it’s your kid’s party, but consider where everyone would have a good time when planning your party venue. If it’s at your house, think up some fun games everyone might enjoy and build in plenty of time for just playing around. Have a friend with food allergies, such as gluten or dairy? Make sure to pick up something special for that friend. They are probably used to bringing their own treat when they go to parties and will be surprised that you thought of them on your child’s special day. No, your kid isn’t spring for the cost or taking the time to drive to the store, but she is definitely watching you!

Sharing. Your kid may get some pretty good stash at his birthday party, and other kids are certainly going to want to play with the new goods. I’ve seen some parents not let their kid even open the gifts until after all the guests have left so they don’t have to deal with this conundrum, but I think that’s a mistake and here’s why: it doesn’t teach the birthday kid anything, and I am all about teaching opportunities, even when they are inconvenient for me. Instead, explain to your child pre-party that she is going to be getting some cool new stuff and that she can put some of her favorite things up right away but that she should share some of the things and play with them with her friends, not hoard and hide them all away! Listen, as an adult, I do not expect you to share your sweet new ride with your friends, but I know you will share a room in your home, your food, your coffee and maybe even a meal or some clothing.

Giving back and donating. Not every kid is showered with gifts from parents, extended family and friends every year. Not every kid gets to even have a birthday party. And it’s also true that some kids barely get enough food to eat each day or don’t have any school supplies when it’s time to start school each year. So why not have your altruistic kid ask for gifts for someone else one year? In my town, our local food bank supplies a birthday cake and all the fixings as long as the guests bring canned goods, take the tour and help out for a bit. Also, if your child has a particular love for, say, animals, how about hosting a birthday party for or at a local animal shelter and — instead of presents — asking for donations like food and other supplies?

Instead of lecturing, which we all know gets tuned out anyway, get your party on with some cool hidden lessons that will take your kid beyond their kid years and into a fun and full life.

Kerrie McLoughlin puts on five birthday chaotic parties per year for her kids and lives to tell about it at



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