Everyone has birthdays and many school-aged children have birthday parties. Birthday parties can be filled with man emotions — Excitement, Joy, Happiness, Fear, Anxiety, and Frustration.
We recently celebrated my son’s birthday and “oh boy” was his excitement through the roof during the day and the days leading up to the birthday party. Due to COVID, the party consisted of grandparents only but that didn’t stop the elevated excitement about the upcoming cake and presents.
Being the parent of a child with ADHD, you are probably already aware of the most common symptoms associated with the diagnosis – impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. Your child may suffer from one or two of these symptoms or all three. Each ADHD diagnosis manifests differently from child to child however we know there are certain parts of birthday parties that are ritualized. You can help your child prepare for these almost certain events – hellos and goodbyes, blowing-out-the-candles, gift opening, games, singing happy birthday.
Here are six tips to help throw a birthday party for a child with ADHD.
- Have fun
- Birthday parties often get stressful, overwhelming, and frustrating especially if not planned well ahead of time. Make sure to discuss the expectations and the plan with your child ahead of time to help them prepare for the activities that will take place. You can role play greetings, practice singing happy birthday or having it sung to them, and practice games ahead of time to help eliminate anxiety or fear. You can also have a picture or word chart discussing the order of events that will occur. Also, discuss a safe word that helps the child communicate they are getting overwhelmed and need a short break.
- Limited the Guest List
- When you are starting to plan your child’s birthday it might seem like a good idea to invite the whole class or the entire family so no one gets left out. However, if there are too many guests, things can get overwhelming for your child and ultimately for yourself as well. Keep the party small by limiting the guest list to grandparents, siblings, a couple of playmates, and maybe a neighbor. The experience of being the center of attention as the birthday child is overwhelming for many children. Children with ADHD often struggle with social challenges so inviting a few children/people will decrease the social pressure so your child can easily interact with each of them.
- If you are inviting children make sure to provide clear communication with the other parents. Ask the parents about vital information related to their child to ensure they will have a good time and about their plans for attending the birthday party. It is always nice to have additional parents available to assist – especially with passing out food and games.
- Have bigger parties outside of the home
- As children age, you might be finding yourself having to invite the entire class or the entire grade. Bigger parties do better at a venue like a movie theater as everyone in attendance will be prepared for “watching the movie” cake, presents, and departure. According to doctors Perri Klass and Eileen Costello, having a party at a venue instead of the home creates a sense of privacy for the child about their home and the fear of peers finding their “bedtime charts” or having other children touch or play with their toys is removed.
- Limit the Party Length
- You should make a point to keep the party to a few hours. Short and sweet is often much better. Children with ADHD are often easily overwhelmed and overstimulated so a long party can increase the risk of behavioral issues. When planning the time for the party, you might want to think about when your child operates at their best during the day. Some children are at their best in the morning while others are at their best in the afternoon. If your child takes medication, this can also influence their mood, attention, and behavior throughout the day, so it is helpful to plan accordingly.
- Familiarize your child with the location
- Children with ADHD often feel most comfortable with routine and consistency. New places can be overwhelming and overstimulating which is why checking the place out ahead of time would be beneficial for both you and your child. By visiting the venue ahead of time it can reduce stress and help reduce the chance that they will become dysregulated.
- Plan and choose activities carefully and wisely
- When planning activities for the party, consider your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Try to plan a few tasks that your child enjoys versus introducing new tasks that may frustrate and overwhelm the child. If your child struggles with inattention then watching a long movie may not be the best option. If your child struggles with hyperactivity then it would be important to keep him moving by playing a game of tag, jumping on a trampoline, or jumping in a bouncy house. If you are going to have an activity that your child has not done before, for example, pin the tail on the donkey or pin the carrot on the snowman, then have your child practice prior to the party so they understand the game, rules, and expectations.