When a party is scary

Understanding the different reactions of children
Reading time: 3 minutes


Let's get ready for the party. But what's a party?

“Come on Mark, we’re going to the party! Let’s get ready.” “Aren't you happy about that?”  How many times have we spoken these words, but what do our children actually understand?


What's a party? Party is synonymous with “festival”, from the Latin “festus”, meaning “joyful”, “happy”. The word party means the day or time when a personal or family, religious or civil celebration is held. But are we sure that our children are clear about the meaning of this word which we adults very often take for granted? Are we sure that a celebration is always synonymous with joy and happiness?


Is it likely for a child to become afraid and cry at a celebration?


Yes, it can happen that while a celebration for us is a moment of fun, for children it is quite the opposite. Lots of new people, people who invade each other’s personal space with kisses and hugs, loud voices and prying looks. So, it can happen that it is fun for adults and not for children. Children need to be prepared and guided towards understanding the reason for a meeting or celebration and above all they need to be respected and understood. There are adults who do not like physical contact and adults who prefer gatherings with just a few people and there are also adults who prefer quiet parties or those who love loud music and chaos. Before becoming adults, these adults were children and probably children who did not like going to celebrations, so it is important to learn to listen and above all to respect children’s needs and to give them time to get used to these events.


How do children feel when they come to a party or celebration?

It may happen that, due to their character and behaviour, they join in immediately and become an active part in the fun. But they may also get scared and be afraid because they do not understand people’s behaviour, the noise and what people do.

Very often children do not yet have the tools to understand what makes them want to cry or run away; they feel that some places, people or noises make them feel uneasy, but they are not capable of giving a name to these feelings and prefer to withdraw and hide behind their parents or cry.


Now let’s think about a party where you need to dress up, such as Halloween or a Fancy Dress party... how exciting choosing the costume to wear!

If the child chooses the costume, there is no problem, but sometimes they do not want to put the costume on the parents do everything to convince them.


Is that fair? Not really!

Think about how you would feel if in the morning you could not choose what to wear to go to work but there was someone else telling you what to put on and maybe the clothes in question were not at all to your liking. How would that make you feel?

But it can happen that children also voluntarily choose to dress up but prefer not to do so with people other than those with whom they feel safe, namely, their family. So we should not force children to do what they are not yet ready to do or which they do not enjoy.


What does a party/celebration teach children?

It can teach them many things, but only if we approach it correctly.

Above all, it teaches them how to develop their social skills, how to spend time with others with a common purpose: having fun, sharing, meeting, playing, being light-hearted.

But all this is initially a point of emotions before moving to action. If parent get annoyed because their child throws a tantrum, parties and celebration will acquire a negative meaning: every time we talk about partying the child will remember the anxiety and annoyance of their parents.

If, on the other hand, parents are able to empathise with their child’s emotions, accept their possible fears, respect the time they need and guide them in facing new situations, then it is much more likely that the child will feel understood, respected and will put their trust in their parents with greater confidence. Maybe they just need a little time to watch what happens before actually joining the party.

So it becomes very important to create a common practice: create the surprise effect if our child likes surprises or tell them what will happen at the party if surprises tend to scare them. Getting children used to what is likely to happen every time there is a party, gives them security and makes them feel safe because they know what to expect.

Before attending an event in a new place, it may be helpful to prepare a party at home. Prepare the decorations, the music and the food together with them. Decide who to invite and prepare an invitation; all this helps children to understand what the ingredients of a party are.


The party is over, did you have fun?

If the answer is no, we should not get annoyed: it is important to try to understand their reasons and share the emotion they felt. We should try to process the experience, whether it was positive or negative. We should remember that the care we put into our actions is more often than not worth more than the actions themselves.

Once we understand the reasons why the party was not a joyful event, we can try to understand what can be done so that on the next occasion it will be addressed differently. We should try to convey a message of complicity rather than judgement, make them feel we are interested in their well-being and adjust our behaviour so that the next party can become an opportunity for growth.

And now we're ready to party! So long as the party is for everyone!

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