This past weekend was M’s fourth birthday. We had a wonderful day. Starting with a fundraising event for the kids school, followed by a relaxing time seeing the Smurfs movie and ending with presents, dinner and cake with family members and two friends who are like family.
I knew after M’s first birthday that he didn’t like birthday parties. We threw a traditional first birthday where I cooked a feast and invited 50 people. It was overwhelming for him. He spent the day clinging to me and looking nervous and confused. Not at all happy. I don’t have a single happy picture of him from that day.
I felt pressured to throw a party for his second birthday as well. I kept it simple. But even still, he struggled with being overwhelmed the whole time. Well that was his last “kiddie party,” at least until I forget and give into his request for one in elementary school.
Because we have to manage his expectations, and produce a day that is very predictable, we chose this year to have a small gathering of the family members who live close.
We have learned in the past (i.e. Christmas) that a pile of presents is not a good idea for him. Instead, for his birthday, I hid all his presents from Grandparents and the couple of things I bought him, in the closet. Out of sight. Otherwise, he would obsess over opening the next gift. I presented him one gift in the morning, then another around 4 pm, and let him play with it for a while. We FaceTimed with the grandparents as he opened their gifts from them about an hour apart. We let him open the gifts from his Aunts as they walked in the door, no waiting (and obsessing).
He had requested a piñata earlier in the week. I made no promise about it and just deflected the request. But I hid the piñata away and brought it out just when it was time to let him smack it for a while. Note that his sister was the only other child at the party. It was basically a whole piñata just for them. There was no waiting in line or commotion of children running and grabbing candy as it fell out of the piñata. You see for him, that would be an unhappy experience. He can’t think as quick on his feet as other kids and his expectations are often unrealistic. In order to manage this, I just can’t invite any other kids.
Thinking neurobehaviorally is really about knowing how to manage your child’s environment to set them up to be successful. After a few years of practice, I think I am getting pretty good at this. But I do have trouble managing other people’s expectations. I often get asked, “when’s the party?” and I just say “he doesn’t like parties,” without going into too much detail. I think some people interpret this as being a lazy mom. I think other people might think having a piñata for two kids is silly or having a kid free birthday for a 4 year old is selfish. But, believe me, it is what he needs to have an enjoyable time.