Birthday Parties: Is It Now A Competition?

This year, kids will have birthdays. Many children will also have a birthday party. But what’s happening to the birthday party? Is it out of control?

There have been some interesting articles recently about birthday parties. Have you read or heard of the little boy who missed a birthday party that he said he would attend? His parents were sent a $25 no-show bill from the mother of the birthday boy. Parents are weighing in on both sides of the issue. In another article this week, Children’s Birthday Parties Are Getting More and More Extravagant, Helaine Olen warns that costs are now in the hundreds of dollars and may be as high as $1,000.

birthday parties for kidsWhy is this happening? “You can blame it on what Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank calls an “expenditure cascade.” In short, as people at the top of the income pile spend more on an item, it causes everyone to upgrade their expectations and expenditures.”  Social media may also be a factor as we all try to do what we read that everyone else is doing.

Of course, we want to give our children the very best, but is an expensive party in the children’s interest or in ours? We need to ask ourselves if an extravagant party is reasonable or beneficial. Are there some alternatives?
Most children want time to play with their friends. It’s wonderful to have an adventure or special event. Perhaps, that exciting feature could be saved for a play-date with 1 or 2 friends at a different time and the birthday party itself could be the highlight. The cake, the games, the reasonably-priced presents, and the goodie-bags of little treats like stickers and tattoos, could be the main attraction. The biggest challenge will be resisting the pressure to be on-par with other families. Why does it have to be a competition? Sometimes it takes courage to be ordinary.


If your family has a paper calendar on the fridge or the wall, let your child put a sticker or draw a picture beside birthdays. Some children may be able to write the words for mom, dad, and brothers or sisters. You might want to include other family and friends. When you turn to a new page, kids can see who is having a birthday that month. Besides a phone call or face time, children’s art is wonderful to get in the mail.

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