"Plan well to avoid discipline issues," advises Beverly Prange, program specialist for the San Diego County Office of Education. Decide ahead of time what you're comfortable with in terms of behavioral expectations. The age and personality of your child and his/her party pals are big factors, of course.
Use the invitations to set the tone and open a dialogue with other parents. If you want other moms and dads to attend (to keep an eye on their party animals), make that clear. If it's a kids-only soiree, be sure to use the RSVP phone call to jot down contact information in case any problems arise. Depending on how well you know the parents, you can warn them in advance that "house rules apply," suggests Robert Hyman, MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist). For pool parties, for instance, the "swim floats are mandatory" mantra may need to be drilled down before one of those "But I can swim!" kids dons his suit.
"It's often best to establish some ground rules with your child before the party begins," Hyman suggests. Talk about the importance of sharing, and prepare her for the fact that there will be lots of excitement. Talk through some different scenarios, and decide together how things will go.
You'll also avoid a lot of potential problems by sharing your expectations with the whole group at the start of the party. This is mandatory if you're taking them to a public place like a ballpark where you'll need a plan for sticking together.
If there is a minor scuffle, Hyman suggests following these steps, depending upon the severity of the offense:
"I would not recommend disciplining your child in front of other children," advises Rita F Resnick, PhD of Gestalt Associates Training Los Angeles, a nonprofit psychotherapy training center. "Take your son or daughter into another room for a private discussion."
Hyman adds, "If it's a more severe discipline issue like biting or hitting, go straight to step three." Immediately take both kids into another room, let them calm down and try to determine what happened. Then, let the injured kid go back to party and, as long as another adult peacekeeper is present, sit with the biter until he's calm and you're confident it won't happen again. "If the problem continues, you are perfectly within your rights to send the child home," Hyman stresses.
Prange explains that discipline will be most effective if you enforce "logical consequences." For example, if a child continually throws a ball at another child, take the ball away -- don't do something unrelated to the incident, like banishing his or her goodie bag.
The experts agree that your best bet is to let the child's parents handle any discipline problems their own way, if at all possible. And above all else, Resnick reminds us that "adults have a right and a responsibility to enforce a safe and secure environment for all the children." That way, everyone has fun -- even you.
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