My daughter’s 10th birthday is in less than two weeks, and she’s having a lot of difficulty with deciding what she wants to do. She wants a party, and to invite her friends, but she can’t decide anything else, nor does she want me to organise it for her. Every now and then she will come up with one detail, but then as soon as we try to expand on that, it gets (in her words) ‘too hard’, and she starts getting upset, and saying she doesn’t want a party, or she wants the theme to be ‘being sad’. Then an hour later she gets stressed that we have nothing planned, and the party is coming up soon. (We haven’t even sent out invitations yet, because she can’t decide on a day. She wanted it to be on her actual birthday, but we’ve since discovered that one of her best friends isn’t available that day.)
This seems to be something we go through each  year. I can’t remember a year (since she was old enough to start participating in making her own decisions) when she didn’t have difficulty around her birthday, and in the weeks/months leading up to it. I’m sure some of it is developmental, and it will pass, but I really want her to have an enjoyable time on her birthday, and I don’t know how to help her achieve this.
I don’t think it’s that she doesn’t want a party, and I don’t believe that a quieter day would make her happy either. When we’ve tried something like that in the past, with just inviting everyone to the park and having a cake, she ends up disappointed on the day when people are just playing, and there are no party games. The problem seems to be with making the decisions. She likes to have control. If I suggest something, she’ll declare it the last thing she wants, yet she can’t seem to think of anything herself.
She has a similar difficulty around Christmas as well, although that seems to be easing, whereas the birthday stresses seem to be increasing. Perhaps because she’s more involved with her friends now, and birthday parties are very friend focused.
I don’t even know where to start with helping her have the day she wants. I don’t think she knows what she wants. I’m sure I’m missing something here, or that there’s a way to make this easier for both of us, but I just can’t seem to see it, so I thought I’d see if anyone here had any ideas, or could help me see things from a different perspective.

Shira Rocklin


Its not clear whether you and she have just been trying to pull ideas from your heads.  My daughter nay-say's most of my birthday ideas, too.  And she doesn't find it too hard to think up her own ideas.  She often pulls them from things she's seen on TV.  

But my idea for you was, go make a Pinterest pin board with her, and search pinterest for birthday party activities/ideas and make an inspiration board.  If the suggestions are coming from the internet, with fun photos, that might change how she sees them.  


Sandra Dodd

It might help to say that if half the plans come true, that's good. That the only way she could have exactly her imaginary party would be if it were a play that she wrote and others exactly played their parts. Even then, directors don't always get actors who do exactly what they had imagined. :-)

Maybe not in those terms exactly, but point out that parties can't be about control, just about setting the stage and letting people make up their own parts.

If you can afford it, maybe you could hire a magician or party planner sort of outfit. We had a magic fairy once (someone I knew who did parties as a clown or a fairy—some costume, some activities, some magic).

When we did parties, we would have extra moms at the house, and I would move kids from room to room by food or activities. While they were eating in one room, the activity was being set up in another. While they were playing the game or making the things or whatever it was, the cake and ice cream, or the outside activity, or the next stage, was being set up.

If things were going great, that activity was left to continue, if there was time. If things started to get boring or difficult, it was easy to rescue the situation by calling them happily to the next room or the yard.


Sandra Dodd

Another way to help with choices would be a list of options, two options in each situation, of things she's said, like

cupcakes or minecraft cake?
pizza or monkey platter?

And then you have a list of what was NOT chosen, and that could be considered for her 11th birthday. That way she's not saying "never" to the rejected choices, and you have half a plan for next year, which could be totally changed, but which might in the meantime keep it feeling like ends tied up, rather than unlimited frazzledy ends.

We have a new movie theater in Albuquerque with a birthday party room. Good thinking! They will do set-up and cleanup, and the kids see a movie. It's more money but not more grief.

Our children's museum / hands-on-science museum also has a party option.
Lots of places might, where you are. Some might be crazy expensive, but others might not be.

Once we had an out of town family visiting, and another local unschooling family, and mine, and we pretended a birthday (chose the kid who would most appreciate it and be able to pretend) and we wrapped up some matchbox cars and stuff from around the house, and bought a party package because it was cheaper than individual miniature golf at this very cool local place (no longer there) that had each "hole" as an iconic New Mexico landmark or local feature.

We tried not to laugh much when the owner was VERY school-principle with the kids and used analogies about school, when he cautioned them about not being wild and to play right and to be polite. There was nobody there but us. It was great, except for the old guy's grumpiness about children. :-)


Christine Milne

My 8yo daughter loves organising parties and events. She too wants things to be ‘perfect’. We held an event last year that was pretty much organised entirely by her. One thing I noticed was that with some of her ideas I thought, oh, that isn’t going to work, but she was absolutely spot on. So that was something for me to learn, to not be too controlling myself.
I’ve seen that my daughter also gets overwhelmed if there are too many choices. So we break it down into chunks. I would pick my moment, quite often it would be whilst driving in the car, and we’d discuss ONE aspect of the party. Or at home, we’d look through google images and choose foods, or decorations, or costumes. But only one thing at a time.
You need to send invitations out, because it’s so soon, and people might not be able to come. Can you focus on that with her for now? Decide the date and the start time. That’s all. Have it when her friend can come, that way she gets TWO birthdays! Reassure her that if she later decides on a theme, and people need to know, it’s an easy matter to call or email everyone.
Then, maybe the following day, in the right moment, ask if she wants people to dress up. People need advance warning of that too. Throw ideas around with her, then come back to it the next day. Try and make it fun, suggest some truly preposterous ideas, laugh about some of the party themes she would definitely NOT want. It feels like a burden to her, to have to make all these decisions, so I think if you could lighten things a little that would help. Could you go and spend a few hours in a toystore playing and picking out prizes for games?
Just focus on one aspect at a time. One a day. Offer some suggestions – google images is great for this, or pinterest.
We’ve organised so many parties and events that I now have a 7 day timetable mapped out – it is definitely possible to organise everything in 7 days. Reassure her about that, if she’s worried. And yourself too!

Joyce Fetteroll

It's too late for this party, but what about organizing a smaller tea party and other kinds of parties once a month, or even once a week to start. It sounds like there's too much riding on this one party such that she wants to get it perfect, especially since the next opportunity is a whole year away.


Pam Sorooshian

On Sat, May 24, 2014 at 11:20 AM, Joyce Fetteroll jfetteroll@... [AlwaysLearning] <[email protected]> wrote:
It's too late for this party, but what about organizing a smaller tea party and other kinds of parties once a month, or even once a week to start. It sounds like there's too much riding on this one party such that she wants to get it perfect, especially since the next opportunity is a whole year away.

One of our park day kids used to LOVE to plan parties. So she'd plan one for park day quite often. I can't remember what we were supposed to be celebrating - but she'd decorate a cake and put up some decorations in the park shelter. I really like Joyce's idea of having more frequent, less pressured, little parties of various kinds.