Is This Normal?

Big Birthday Expectations

My child wants a birthday party we can't afford

Q:

My 10-year-old daughter recently attended big birthday parties for classmates. One party was for 20 kids at an inflatable park; another was a princess makeover for 15 girls. We don’t have the money to host that kind of an event for her birthday. But she keeps asking what we are going to do for her party and has already made up a “guest list” for 15 kids. How do we lower her expectations? — Mattawan Mom

A:

It can often be a difficult time when children begin to compare themselves to others, and the concern with “fairness” arises. In general, having a conversation with your child about the difference between fair and equal can be helpful. It is important to explain that two people can receive different things that are not equal but are still fair based on the situation.

For example, one child forgets a coat and another forgets a pencil. It is fair to give one a coat and the other a pencil, even though the items they receive are not equal in value. Therefore, based on a family’s situation, what a family has in the budget for a party can be fair without being equal to what another family has in the budget for a party.

That said, it is always disappointing when people realize their expectations are not going to be met. So keeping that in mind when you talk with her may help you empathize with her reaction to your discussion about her party plans. It is also important to give her time to re-adjust her expectations before her party, in order to let go of her previous plan and get excited again with more realistic expectations.

Once she has had time to process the loss of her first party plan, give your child a general budget for her party and help her decide how she wants to spend the money. You could guide her toward realizing she may be able to do more with fewer friends than with 15. This is a great opportunity to assist your child in seeing that happiness and fun can come from many other ways than spending money.

Questions answered by Nichole Holliday, MA, LLPC, LLMFT, Private Practice at Child & Family Psychological Services Portage, and Alyssa Noonan, LLMSW, Private Practice at Child & Family Psychological Services Kalamazoo

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Empathize with your child's disappointment

It is always disappointing when people realize their expectations are not going to be met. So keeping that in mind when you talk with her may help you empathize with her reaction to your discussion about her party plans. It is also important to give her time to re-adjust her expectations before her party, in order to let go of her previous plan and get excited again with more realistic expectations.

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