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birthday party talk budget
Illustration courtesy Lauren Rebbeck

Explaining the Party Budget

Expert advice for talking to your child about birthday party expenses.

My kids are invited to extravagant birthday parties, each one bigger than the last. It’s beginning to feel like a competition. We can’t afford to do anything close to these bashes but I don’t want my kids to feel “less than” because of it. How can I explain to them why we need to have a more subdued—and less expensive—party?

Eli Harwood, therapist at PASS Center, shares the following advise for parents.

Ultimately, this is a question of how to share reality with our children without overburdening them with complicated grown-up perspectives. What feelings does this situation bring up in you? Do you feel guilty because you always envisioned being able to say “yes” to all your child’s birthday requests? Perhaps you feel peeved because you don’t agree with what you perceive as indulgent parenting in other families. Talk to the safe people in your world to validate your feelings and work through them before talking with your child. That way, your emotions won’t intrude on your child’s learning experience.

Set expectations with your child and be honest. Tell him or her, “We are so looking forward to your birthday. We have a few ideas for the celebration and want your input.” When your child tells you what he or she actually wants for the party, you might discover it’s not as elaborate as you thought. If your child has unrealistic expectations, show empathy. We all know what it feels like to be disappointed.

Tell your child there are many ways to enjoy celebrations. Some involve spending money, some involve being creative, and most of them involve being with the people you love. Explain that your job as a parent is to manage money responsibly, and that means understanding limits for the family.

You can make room for what they feel but also hold your ground on what is reasonable and in line with your family values. This will empower them to deal with the endless limits they will experience throughout life.

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