The last week has been a bit of a blur, as I was organising my daughter’s birthday party which was on Saturday! Maybe there are people out there who can manage to do this without it taking over your whole week?! If so, hats off from me! There always seems to be so much to do!
If your child has additional needs, there is even more to think about, and extra levels of stress. Parties are fun, but also can be chaotic and confusing, and somewhat overwhelming if you have difficulty understanding language or expressing yourself.
Here are some ideas of how to support a child with language difficulties with birthday parties – both their own and other people’s.
- Use visual support wherever you can to support your child’s understanding of what will happen. If it is another child’s party, this may be a challenge as you may not know exactly what will happen. However, there may be some things you can do. If the party is in a public building of some kind, look up pictures of what the place looks like to familiarise your child with it. If the children will be participating in a particular activity, again look at pictures online or in a book, of people doing the activity.
- Find out what will happen so that you can support your child. Obviously this can be a difficult thing to negotiate between supporting your own child and asking too many questions. Explain why you want to know something (eg whether there will be balloons, or what order things will happen). I think most parents would be happy to give out the information if they understand why. Make sure that you make it clear that you are not making demands, just requesting the information.
- Involve your child as much as you can in preparation. If it is their party, let them help to choose as many aspects as they can, so that they are prepared and feel in control. If it is another child’s party, involve them in choosing a present and choosing what they will wear.
- Don’t go if it’s just going to be too stressful. For some children at some parties, it may be that they just wouldn’t enjoy any aspect of it and it may be better for everyone to just decline the invitation. However, see if there is a compromise that can be reached first. If there is one particular part that they will find hard, can they just attend part of the party?
- Keep it small and simple. If it is your child’s party, resist the pressure to invite the whole class if that is not going to work for them. Just have a few children and keep it low-key. Dispense with any traditions that your child will find stressful. For example, some children find wrapped presents very stressful as they don’t know what is in them. If this is your child, ask people not to bring them. If they don’t like loud singing, don’t feel you have to sing happy birthday, or even blow candles out if it’s not going to work for them. It’s your child’s party, fill it with things they enjoy as much as possible.
- Support your child if they need it. If your child is likely to struggle, ask if you can stay around. With younger children, there are likely to be other parents staying anyway. If they are older children, and you don’t want to look conspicuous, keep in the background as much as possible or stay very nearby and make it clear to the birthday child’s parents that you are nearby and happy to be called on if needed. If you know the other parent well, ask if you can help them on the day – that way you can be around to support your child if needed without making them feel different. (This has the added bonus that you will be loved forever by the birthday child’s parents for helping!!)