Sometimes out brightest kids find they are rarely invited to a party or if they are, find they don’t have the social skills to “have fun” and “fit in” at these social gatherings. Problems that can arise include
- Not knowing what to say
- Saying inappropriate (but true) things
- Finding the food difficult – this can vary from taste, texture, colour, small or just analysing the health benefits of said food (including drinks) as well as food allergies and intolerances
- Difficulty with noise levels
- Fairness of games (often everyone wins which is not always “fair”)
- Games in general
- Length of time
- Needing adult support but not wanting to look babyish
- Appropriate clothing
So, what can you, as their parent or carer, offer to the child to help them enjoy these, sometimes rare, events?
Setting the scene
It may be helpful to try to discover what is going to be at the party before your child attends. It may seem like this will spoil the surprise, but many children prefer the safeness of foreknowledge rather than the surprise. If possible, ring the family hosting the event and find out what you can, even offer to help (more on this below).
Next describe to your child what they will most likely see, do and eat at the party. This will help them to prepare their expectations. Be careful not to over sell as they may be let down if the activity etc. does not meet their expectations. You could even drive by the house so they can see where the party will be.
Talk about the sorts of things that may be challenging for them (you know your child so this can vary from too much noise, to your child dominating the conversation). Role play or discuss with detail how the group will interact and the best way they can contribute to that. You may even decide on a strategy for what they can do if it gets too much.
During the party
At the risk of being labelled as that parent, you could work out a way to be involved at the party on the day. As mentioned above, offer to help out. Even if it is dishes duty or warming food. That way you can be a backup for your child as needed.
If your child has difficult food needs, offer to send along food that will blend into the other types of food that they can eat. It could be an individual selection or something to share. Many children have allergies and intolerances these days, so it is more socially acceptable to have options for special diets.
Talk to the host and maybe one of the parents of your child’s friends, so that you can arrange a buddy to help your child interact at the party.
Arrange a time out, recharge space or option, for your child. It may be they need to have a time limit/curfew, where you will pick they up early. Or drop them off early so they gradually meet the party attendees rather than walk into a crowded space. If you attend the party, you could get them to come and say hi to you if they need a bit of emotional support.
After the party
After any party they will probably need some time to detox, debrief etc. They may need alone time, an early night, a long shower. Something to regenerate after their time of holding it together in an uncomfortable situation.
Don’t immediately go through it blow by blow to find out what they have learned from the encounter. Let it sit with them and come out organically, as they are ready to discuss.
Be prepared for a meltdown. At home is a safe space and you should welcome the meltdowns as a sign that they feel safe to let it out with you (even though it is often very difficult to live through).
Ideas for your own child’s birthday party
Invite children who your child enjoys being with, but be aware that some of these children may have similar needs and challenging behaviours.
Welcome ANY parents that will stay and help.
Have structured play. One idea that works well is a role play where the children work together to solve a mystery or discover a treasure. You can purchase these or find free online or make up your own. They usually involve a series of questions that must be asked and answered that eventually reveal enough clues to logically find the culprit or treasure. This will give the children things to talk about for weeks and months after the party (from my experience).
Avoid too much sugar. I know it is a party but overdoing the sugar makes it hard to the children to regulate their emotions and behaviour. Instead have fun food that is healthier. Children can make their own pizza, have interestingly cut fruit to choose from. Having a fruit punch rather than cans of soft drink is also fun, add cute umbrellas, ice etc makes a simple drink very enticing.
Find opportunities to meet socially with like-minded children
Children and Parents all benefit from opportunities to be with other people, to share ideas and get support. Even if you are introverted (as many gifted people seem to be) you benefit from human interaction. We are a naturally communal species and we develop our ideas and skills through working with others.
Forming a social group with others, such as a monthly Games Night or Annual Camp , provide a catalyst for future interactions with others. In our monthly Games and Activity Nights, we provide a safe space for families to meet and share their stories, where the children are given opportunities to interact with one another, while parents are present. Parents help their children navigate any issues in a safe, non-judgemental environment, where the children are engaged in fun, non-threatening and sometimes challenging activities.
Find more information at Australian Gifted Support