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» Common Interest Parties

We see a great many " common-interest "parties where the children come together for their weekly dance lesson, hobby club meeting, scout troop, or ball game and take a few moments to acknowledge a child's birthday.

You might hold such a party because you can't invite the entire group to the main party. Or perhaps there simply isn't the time, money, or space to hold a main party at home. A common interest party is a lot better than no party at all

Parties of this nature need to be short because the party is an "extra," a special, added attraction that must fit into an already packed schedule. Don't just show up at the recreation hall and start passing out party hats. Check with the group leader or others who can tell you about the procedures. Is there already something special scheduled for the day? Must you abide by certain rules about serving food, even if it is birthday cake?

There is an excellent possibility that some easy-to-use decorations can be taped into place, lending authenticity to the "party" segment of the gathering. Allow your child to pick these out.

Talk to your youngster and let him know that this kind of party is different from a regular get-together at home. It is a mistake to pretend that a fifteen minute acknowledgment at the hobby club is the same as a two-hour bash in the backyard.

A major difference between the two -and a difference that generally must be talked about - is that the common-interest party generally does not allow for an exchange of presents. The birthday person may provide favors but almost never receives gifts. You can soften the disappointment by giving her your present at the gathering or just before it begins.

» Slumber Parties

There is a good chance your birthday person will begin asking to have one of these all-night parties long before he or she is old enough to really enjoy it. An event of this nature is for kids who have had the chance to sleep at friends' houses and who have become comfortable with spending the entire evening.

Usually kids are ready for such an adventurous party at the age of 81/2 or 9. As we are sure you realize, slumber parties involve a great deal of preparation, for the guests will have many needs. A child's sleeping habits, the late-night calls of nature, differences in waking patterns and, of course, homesickness all play a part and must be considered before you decide that an overnight is right for your family.

Still, such parties have many advantages, among them the fact that they can be an extremely happy time for the youngsters. Don't mention that you are thinking about holding a sleepover until you have polled the parents of prospective guests and have an idea of who can and can't come and of any special problems you might encounter. Then, assuming you are satisfied with the responses, it is time to talk with your child.

Let your birthday boy or girl know what having such a party is going to mean. For example, most overnights start late in the afternoon, leaving limited time for outdoor play (especially in the winter). In addition, sleeping accommodations, bathroom arrangements, eating, telephoning, and the increased level of attention you'll be providing mean restricting the guest roster to between five and ten.

Trying to throw such an affair on a school night is not recommended. You know how time consuming it is to get your own youngsters up and ready in the morning. Imagine trying to get an entire party's worth out the door and on their way!

By the age of eight, guests are able to socialize fairly independently and take care of most of their personal needs. It is often wise to center the evening around one or two activities but to keep things pretty loose. A certain amount of the evening is devoted to serving and eating supper, changing into pajamas, preparing for bed and, (not to be encouraged but certainly to be allowed) phoning home. Preparing bedrolls and simply hanging out with friends at bedtime probably are the most enjoyable activities you ever could provide.

Be aware of any medications, night fears, or other problems that will require special attention. Encourage children to bring their teddy bears or favorite stuffed animals so they can cuddle up cozily when it's time to dim the lights.

And speaking of taps, trying to enforce a specific bedtime hour is almost impossible, and even if you find you can get everybody down you'll probably be exhausted by your efforts. Parties are exciting and as guests participate in the events of the evening they will become "party high." Their very enthusiasm works against getting to sleep. The best approach you can take is to arrange activities so that the faster-moving more energetic games come first. As the night progresses, slow down the pace. Your "late night" goal should be quiet stories and calm, peaceful interaction. Letting the exuberance build and hoping the kids will get so tired that they will collapse into bed and "crash" is not realistic. Usually, the more excited children become, the more difficult it is for them to settle down.

Two adults should be present for the evening so that, just in case an emergency develops…if a child needs to be taken home, to a doctor, or elsewhere…the other kids will have someone to supervise them. Additional adults need to be on "standby," ready to assist if they are called upon. Make these arrangements formally and keep a list of where parents will be. If they are taking advantage of their child's outing by spending the night on the town, how can you reach them?

Most of your guests will probably stay up late talking and will want to catch a few extra winks in the morning. Although no formal activities need to be scheduled, it is wise to have quiet games and books - even a television set - available for early risers.

Tell the children the night before that breakfast will be served at a specific time. You can be as creative or as simple as you wish, from omelets and apple crepes to frozen French toast and cold cereal.

Remember that neighbors and siblings count too. Arrange an evening schedule that will give them the peace and quiet they want as early as possible. Let them know you'll be holding your party so that they can plan accordingly.

Control of your pets is important. It was easy enough to farm out the family's mongrel during last year's three-hour afternoon party, but who's willing to take him for an entire night? If you have any doubts about your pet's ability to remain calm in the face of an invasion of his territory by ten bouncy children, lock him in the garage or another place to insure both your guests' and your pup's safety.

Be aware that overnight parties require the use of much more of your home. It is extremely difficult to restrict the kids to the family room. They will spend time in your dining area, a sleeping area, a play area, a bathing area, and, weather permitting, your backyard.

You might want to take the guests to an afternoon event -- to the zoo or a fair - and bring them back for a short birthday celebration and bed. This makes sense, particularly if you have limited space at home. The kids can dine at a fast food emporium and return just in time for cake and presents. Another option: hold the party at home but arrange to have breakfast at McDonalds. Fast food chains are fine for breakfast. You are there to eat, not to have a full-scale party.

We do not recommend that the guests be allowed to watch television on party night unless there is an impressive show or special on (people have been known to plan entire parties around television shows, matching the party theme to that of the of the television program). And remember, a rented DVD does not have to come from the limited selection at the local chain store. We like NetFlix. Keep in mind, too, that many library systems maintain extensive selections of notable videos.

Some children fall asleep even when you want them to stay up! Eric, a young friend, fell asleep every night at eight o'clock until he was seven years old. It didn't matter if Santa was coming or if the tooth fairy had promised to drop by at eight-thirty and meet him in person … at precisely 8 P.M. he stretched out in bed, or on the floor, or under the table … wherever he was, and drifted off to dreamland. Might want to prepare two sleeping spots, one for the weary, and one for the night owls.

» Surprise Parties

Surprise parties frequently turn out to be more fun for the other guests than for the guest of honor. Though this isn't always the case, successful surprise parties for the younger set are few and far between.
The birthday person usually needs time to psych up for a birthday party, to get comfortable with the idea that all her friends are coming together to honor her. There is a feeling of importance and responsibility that can be both exciting and scary, and being involved in pre-party planning and setting up can help a youngster build positive expectations.

Besides, half the party fun occurs during the preparations. Teaming up with parents to arrange important details, having your opinion count, working on the many cooking and decorating tasks side by side with family members - all of this is growthful and fulfilling.

If your heart is set on throwing a surprise party, make certain your child is old enough (at least eight years of age, and hold off another year or two if you can.) One kind of surprise is that the party occurs on a different date than the birthday person expects.

Do not attempt to fool your child by telling him that there won't be time for a party this year or that his behavior hasn't warranted one. Instead, sit down and plan the party with your child. He can pick the decorations (or at least offer an opinion), serve as "consultant" on the guest list, in fact, participate at all the usual levels, just as if this were going to be a straight-ahead (non-surprise) affair. Then, pull your switch. Tell him the party will be on a Sunday, but actually schedule it for Saturday. Or, tell him it is going to take place at three in the afternoon, but surprise him by