Even when you've planned and prepared till the cows come home, hosting your child's birthday party can have its moments of stress - especially when a guest becomes unruly or disruptive, threatening the fun for everyone. We've compiled advice from party experts in the Suffolk County, Long Island, area on the best way to deal with a rude party guest, so you'll be prepared to save the day when the time comes.
Party Poopers, No More!
Even when you've planned and prepared till the cows come home, hosting a birthday party for kids can have its moments of stress. Remember that the occasion is marking another of your child's milestones (one year older, one year wiser, and one more candle on the cake!) - so don't let something as inconsequential as a whiny or unruly child ruin your day, and especially your child's.
All your prep will go far in creating an environment conducive to fun and peace: Pick age-appropriate activities and party places, know your guests (and their parents' expectations), etcetera, etcetera. And then be prepared for anything. As Natalie Swatz, a restaurant manager with 10 years of party entertaining experience under her belt, says, "Not every four-year-old likes hot potato or balloons. By having clear plans in place, you've certainly won half the battle."
To prepare you for the other half, we asked her and other local experts - who've seen it all - for their advice:
How can parents deal with a young guest who is being disruptive at their child's party?
"The best way to handle an unruly child at a party is to clearly state the rules and directions. Children respond best to specific directions rather than general guidelines. For example: 'Do not jump off the top of the swing set, Bobby' is better than 'Please be careful, Bobby.' Establish who's boss (that's you), and the child is likely to adhere to your rules.
Another effective way to handle unruly or rowdy children is to simply be present. Children left to their own devices often get in sticky situations. No matter where your child's party is, make sure you're right in the action. Your son or daughter will appreciate your undivided attention, and you'll be able to monitor the children's behavior and catch any little problems before they escalate into big disasters."
-Jeff Minihane, owner, Safari Adventure Children's Entertainment Center, Riverhead
"I have often come across a situation when I had to speak to a child about inappropriate behavior. Sometimes children can become overstimulated by all of the excitement going on around them, and without a parent present they may forget their manners. The best thing to do is to get down to the child's level, speak to them in a gentle but firm tone, and say, 'You are a guest at this party, and everyone is here to have a good time. Your behavior is not the type of behavior that your parents would allow if they were here, and if you continue to behave in this way, I will have to call your parents to pick you up early. We have a lot of fun activities planned and you don't want to miss them, do you? Well, the birthday boy would not want you to leave either, so let's get back to the party and have some fun, OK?' Hopefully these few words from an adult will set the child back on course for the rest of the party. Don't forget at the end of the party, before the child leaves, to tell him/her that you're happy they decided to stay and enjoy the rest of the party with your child."
-Denise DiBella, owner, Little Sunshine Playcenter, Sayville
"If you are having your party at a venue, make sure the rules are proactively communicated to all participants in order to discourage inappropriate behavior, which can sometimes put other children in harm's way. If a child is acting inappropriately, try having an adult 'walk and talk' with them, to redirect their attention to focus on another game or ride. Sometimes a change of scenery will calm the child down and make him forget what is troubling him. It is also important to address the child discretely so as not to embarrass him, as this usually produces better results."
-Frank DiScala,owner, BounceU Farmingdale, Farmingdale
"If as a host parent you know the disruptive child well, you should be able to take him off to the side to ask if everything is all right. Mention in a nonjudgmental way that you have noticed he is not behaving as well as he usually does. If the child won't open up to you, encourage him to call his parents to discuss the situation or to request an early pick-up. Have your cell phone with you, dial up the parents, and allow the child to express himself freely. If the host parent does not know the child well, try to distract him or re-direct his energies, give him some task to make him feel special, or assign another parent to shadow him.
Regarding parent chaperones: For parties with guests ages 2-4, each child should have one parent attending the event to help them with the activities, to calm them down, or to encourage them to participate. A good parent-to-child ratio for kids ages 5-6 can be one adult for every three to four kids. For parties with guests ages 7-12, two or three parent chaperones should be there, with one acting like a lifeguard at a pool, to keep an eye on everything. Parent chaperones should be given specific assignments to help facilitate the party.
Parties should be designed in segments, with each activity lasting about 20 minutes, to keep the kids interested and focused. Choose activities that are not heavily competitive and do not lend themselves to aggressive behavior. For example, piñatas can become a survival-of-the-fittest activity where the bigger kids scoop up more of the candies and the younger ones are left with less candy and more frustration and hurt feelings. Musical chairs sounds like fun but can get physical, and the pushing and shoving can cause problems. Avoid these types of games to ensure a smooth party."
-Paula Gottlieb Herman, special events planner, LilChefs.com Special Events, serving the greater tri-state area
"As birthday parties are trending out of the house and into party venues, there is potential for parents to drop off their child, leaving the host parent responsible for them. The most important way to avoid an overly rowdy or unruly party guest is to do your research on the venue and its birthday party package. It is the responsibility of the birthday child's parent to be aware of how the party will run. Ideally, there should be no downtime during the party. If children are constantly interacting with others, they will be less likely to become unruly.
Another key to a successful party is a good staff-to-guest ratio. For every five children, you should have at least one staff member or parent to help keep the children engaged and immersed in the activity. Generally, children under five should be accompanied by an adult.
If a child does become unruly or rude, the child must be spoken to in a calm, assertive, and direct manner. Identifying the difficult behavior and refocusing the child on the positive aspects of the birthday party will allow the child to have a more enjoyable experience. The party host and venue's staff members should work together to ensure a safe, fun, and memorable party for all in attendance."
-Lynne Gerald, president, What's Cooking?, Oyster Bay
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