When a birthday invitation arrives in the mail, children are excited. They ask, “Can I go? When is it?” and talk eagerly about presents, cake, and goodie bags. But when the first excitement is over, your child may ask you another question: “Will you stay with me at the party?”
For some children, attending a party is difficult. A child may only want to go to a birthday party if his parents come along, and he may cling and ask them not to leave once he’s arrived. This can happen even when the birthday child is a close friend and the birthday home or place is familiar.
A child who’s shy or quiet in groups may prefer to observe at parties rather than participate and may only feel comfortable doing this when his parents are with him. He also may want them around because he feels temporarily overwhelmed by the excitement, the number of people at the party, unfamiliar fathers, or the unusual appearance of a friend’s house decorated for a birthday. He may also be afraid if there are characters or a clown. If the party is in an unfamiliar place, he may feel even more unsure.
Whatever the reason for your child’s reluctance to attend a party without you, it’s understandable for you to feel frustrated. You may wonder why your child needs to be with you when other children the same age seem willing to stay at parties by themselves. And you might worry about your child’s ability to interact with other children or his lack of independence.
If you recall your own childhood experiences at parties, you may feel more tolerant and accepting of your child’s behavior. Most of us have mixed memories. We may have been happy about the cake and ice cream and games, but we also remember some disappointments and feelings of shyness and embarrassment.
If your child is anxious about attending a party, you can look for ways to make him feel more comfortable. For example, see if a close friend or neighbor is invited to the same party so they can go together. Being with a friend may make separating from you easier.
However, if he wants you to stay, try not to view it as a problem. Instead, enjoy the party, and let your child see you having fun rather than being annoyed. If you stay, your child will probably enjoy himself, and you and he can talk about the fun you both had at the party. And if you don’t complain to other parents or bring the situation to their attention, and just act matter-of-fact about staying with your child, they either won’t notice or will admire your patience and involvement.