For Atti’s whole life, any mention of a birthday party was met with screams and tears. Even attending other kids birthday parties were too much for him to take as he was humiliated by proxy with all the attention on the birthday kid. Even hearing Happy Birthday in a restaurant was enough to send him into redfaced earcovered dripping wet tears. And for a kid as introverted as mine? A birthday party really would be torture. All that special attention is great for an extrovert, but with my guy being too shy to speak, I can’t imagine a greater hell than opening presents while everyone watched.
So we did things just the three of us. I’d make a special cake, or he’d pick out a special present, but it really couldn’t get lower key. Until this year. Atti finally said he wanted a birthday party. We were so shocked I kept asking him over and over again. “Really? A birthday party? Do you want your friends from school to come? And church friends? Really?” But he kept saying yes, so I jumped on the chance to go absolutely crazy.
And I did. Special invitations, so so so much food (that will be coming later this week), lots of decorations, but I also kept one eye on Atti the whole time, making sure that I had built in some safeguards for my gentle little boy.
So if you have an introverted kid, here’s some tips I’ve tested out for you.
Don’t make your child play host. I made a music playlist and had it going on the computer so as people arrived I’d hand the kids a balloon to blow up or play with (as age appropriate) and told them we were having a dance party. We built the chaos of those early minutes into the party so I never had to ask Atti to go and take a kid to play. We were all just playing from the moment they walked in the door.
Create a safe space. For our activity we rented a petting zoo (hashtag country living privilege) but the point of it was to have something Atti could hide in while the other kids could still be entertained. If things got too overwhelming – which they did – he could hang back and make friends with a special calf while all the other kids ran around the backyard doing whatever they wanted. In a pinch a safe space could be a bedroom, or even your lap, but it helps to have a place your child knows they can check in for a few deep breaths to ward off the big overwhelming feelings.
Hit the invitation sweet spot. It might seem counter intuitive, but if you’re not having a party with a couple close friends, than the answer is to throw a rager. We invited a LOT of people. And we told everyone to bring their siblings and parents. We basically had an open door policy. What you’re looking for is reaching peak crowd. If you have enough people that you can’t all sit around and talk in one large group? You did it right. A crowd allows people to break off into smaller groups, people can disappear for a minute if necessary, your child isn’t the source of entertainment, and they can hang back as much as they need in order to be comfortable without anyone being worried or changing the fun of the party.
Throw out the program. It was really important to me that if we were going to throw a party, I wasn’t going to neglect Atti to entertain a bunch of other kids. Free form activities allowed me to make sure Atti was having a special time, but if the other kids were bored with the dance party, they could play with stickers set out on the table. Or pet the animals, or go crazy in the backyard, or play in Atti’s room. There were enough adults around to make sure nothing got broken, but otherwise I encouraged the kids to just play and let go of any plans of moving orderly from one activity to the other. Any kind of an activity that came with an expert to take charge would be great too, as long as they were warned not to single out the birthday kid.
Have a buffet style spread. I made so much food for this party. Partly because it was so much fun for me, but also because I thought of the food as another activity that could provide a distraction as necessary. I spent plenty of time around the snack table as a teenager, and I hang with so many introverted internet types that I know the punch bowl is a perennial comfort zone. So keeping with the motive of not having to control or lead anything, I had all the food out on the table and made it up for grabs through the whole party. Including the birthday cake. We didn’t sing happy birthday, I didn’t walk in with lit candles, we just had it on the table and about halfway through the party I started cutting it up and putting it on plates.
Make One on One time. When a stressed out overstimulated introverted kid starts getting overwhelmed, the LAST thing they want is attention drawn to that fact. If you can make some activities that require one on one time, you can release some of that pressure without anybody being the wiser. For us it was taking turns on the pony rides, but it could be facepainting, or a turn on the trampoline, or special cupcake decorating time, anything that lets the kid chill out on their own for a minute.
Forget the presents. This will not only save your introvert some unwanted attention, but it will make you a hero among parents.
Buying presents for kids parties is the worst! Who knows what some kid at school wants? You’re left spending money you don’t want to spend on plastic crap the kid might not even want. Boo. Instead we took Atti shopping and let him pick out his own presents, and then we had a couple other things – like his Big Boy Bed – that were surprises. If your kid really really has their heart set on presents, then maybe you could stash them in a back room somewhere so you don’t have to open them while people are at the party.
Throwing this party was a total dream come true for me. I’ve been waiting to go Pinterest crazy with a birthday party for Atti’s entire life! But one of my core values as a parent is not to make Atti’s childhood all about me. It has to be what he enjoys, in a way that he wants to celebrate, no matter how many adorable paper goods I’ve had to pass by. I think with this party we managed to make both of our dreams come true.