Children are surprisingly resilient. A sickness that would knock an adult down for a week might only be a bump in the road for a child. And yet, when you’re worried about the spread of a virus, like the flu (or the current pandemic), you need to exercise caution.
So what happens when your kid’s birthday is coming up, but the whole world is on lockdown? Or, perhaps, not even that; what happens if it’s a normal year, with a seasonal flu hitting your neighborhood, and you just don’t want to risk it?
You may want to throw your child a birthday party despite the virus, and you still can, if you’re smart about it. Here are a few ideas you can try.
1. Explain the Problem
The first thing you can do is explain the situation to your children. By now, they will have already noticed the disruption to their routine, and likely adjusted to the new normal with relative ease and flexibility that only a child can muster. You can always simply explain the problem to them and see what they think. This article is a great, simplified primer aimed explicitly at children to explain the pandemic. It’s less applicable in the future, during a normal flu season, but lessons learned now can be useful all their lives.
We’ve all heard tales of children showing remarkable amounts of empathy, and volunteering to forego or delay their birthdays to keep everyone safe. It’s certainly something you can try, and see what they have to say.
2. Rent Solo Entertainment
Just because there’s a disease going around doesn’t mean you need to cancel everything. Large gatherings may be prohibited (or just a bad idea, if the flu is going around), but small-scale entertainment isn’t. You can still, for example, hire a clown, rent a bounce house, or call in another form of entertainment, with the appropriate precautions taken for disease.
Sure, it might not seem like a bounce house would be as fun with just your kids instead of the whole neighborhood, but trust us; your kid is going to have fun regardless. As long as you don’t stress too much about it, they’ll be fine. Children are very receptive to how their parents are feeling, so remember to have some fun yourself!
3. Host a Distancing Play Date
Children can still play, though perhaps not quite as together as they normally would. This can be easier with some children than with others, depending on how close-contact your kids like to be. Taking kids to a park to play may be fine, though you should try to make sure all of the parents involved know the rules about social distancing and can convince their kids to respect them. Some children are perfectly happy to use a swing set a short distance from one another, engage in a Nerf war, or otherwise play without roughhousing.
4. Sync Parties at Everyone’s Home
Teleconferencing software is becoming extremely popular right now, for obvious reasons. You can network with your kids’ friends’ parents and set up a shared video conference to sync up parties with one another. Let’s say you wanted to have a pizza bar at your party. Get all the parents to set up their own small-scale pizza bars, and simultaneously host an isolated party with video feeds to show off what everyone is doing.
Just make sure no one parent decides to out-do the birthday child. Feelings of jealousy on a birthday can foster resentment and lead to issues once all the kids are able to gather again.
5. Create a Pen Pal Event
The invention of email has put a bit of a damper on the concept of pen pals, but with global isolation in effect, it’s a concept that could see a resurgence.
Set up a pen pal letter-writing event with your child, and any of their friends who want to participate (via teleconferencing, of course). You can find pen pals in a variety of ways. Large sites like Pen Pal World allow you to choose pen pals for your kids to write to (just set up an account that blocks adults, and vet some choices before you begin). Alternatively, contact a local or not-so-local agency for seniors and make someone’s day. A letter-writing event can be fun for everyone involved and doesn’t have to have immediate results.
6. Party At the Park
If you’re used to taking your child somewhere special for their birthday, you can still do that, even if your local Dave and Busters is closed. Lockdowns and social isolation mean that many event-based businesses are closed, but public parks, nature parks, and trails are often still open. Take your kids on a short, scenic hike. Maybe the zoo is closed, but you can look for local wildlife. You can even organize with your local neighborhood to set up a “wildlife” hunt using stuffed animals. Just remember you shouldn’t gather a large group to go to these places, the same as any other gathering.
7. Hit Up a Drive-In
The drive-in movie theater might seem like a relic of another age, but there are quite a few of them that still operate around the nation. Do a web search for your local area and see if there’s one nearby that has tickets available. A drive-in is a great way to see a movie without having to risk breaking isolation; after all, you’re still in your car and properly distanced from others. You can step it up a notch and get some walkie talkies so the kids can stay in touch during the movie!
If there’s no drive-in, you can always host your own. Buy, borrow, or rent a projector and hook it up to a DVD player to play an old favorite movie, or a computer with streaming access to play something new. Disney, for example, has been putting new releases on Disney+ for people to access when theaters are closed.
9. Set Up a Netflix Simulwatch
If you can’t get a hold of a projector, or don’t have the space to organize a large enough screen, you can host a digital watch party. Again, turn to the idea of videoconferencing here. Set up Netflix or another streaming service in each home, coordinated with parents, and have everyone start it at the same time. Use phones to start a conference call (or voice chat in a group via Skype, Discord, or another platform) so the kids can talk to each other while watching. If you all have second screens and cameras available, you can set up a video call as well.
Some families might not have access to their own streaming accounts. In these cases, you have two options. You can set up a guest profile on your own account and temporarily share your password with other parents. Alternatively, you can use something like Zoom or the Discord screen sharing features to broadcast one screen to multiple friends.
9. Run a Virtual Contest or Fashion Show
Again using the idea of video-based social networking, you can set up a challenge for the kids who want to attend the “party”. Provide a bunch of random clothes and costume pieces and set up a virtual fashion show. Provide a bunch of cardboard boxes and accessories, and host a fort-building contest. Anything you can come up with, that everyone involved can do, can be a fun collective event, with or without judging to declare a winner at the end.
10. Visit Somewhere Special Outdoors
We already mentioned going to a park or nature center to experience nature, but you can also visit interesting outdoor locations as a solo party.
Most cities have monuments, statues, art, and other interesting locations to visit. Look for out of the way, off the beaten track kinds of things to see. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a new favorite park or trail to visit?
11. Bust Out Old Video Games
These days, there are many popular video games consoles with thousands of popular titles, from modern day consoles to the classics. If you’re not a retro gamer, chances are you might have some of these consoles stored away, and your kids may never have experienced the majesty of Mario 3, Sonic and Knuckles, or even the old Atari games. If you can dig out an old console and set it up, you can host a retro gaming event with your kids, and show them what it was like to grow up a few decades ago, before the wonders of the Playstation and Steam existed.
12. Host a Party in Minecraft
Minecraft is one of the most popular videogames for children, and it has two huge benefits for times of social isolation. It’s a collective game that can host dozens of people in one realm at once, and it’s a creative game where children have the freedom to express themselves as constructive – or destructively – as they want, without lasting damage to your surroundings.
You’ll all need Minecraft, of course, though it’s pretty cheap to acquire these days. You’ll also need someone to have a server set up for everyone to play. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even download special maps for your kids to explore!
13. Celebrate a Different Holiday Instead
Birthdays are often all about the social gathering with friends, but you may be able to get your child to accept switching their birthday with a different holiday instead. What is their favorite holiday? Would they have fun celebrating Christmas in July? Do you want to give them a second Halloween a couple of months early? Are they huge fans of the Easter Bunny, giving you the chance to do a birthday-themed Easter egg hunt around the house? As many different holidays as there are, you’re bound to find one you can celebrate with your child and have some fun.
14. Gather with a Few Best Friends
Large gatherings may be verboten, but nothing says you can’t gather with a couple of close friends. You’ll want to make sure to prepare in advance; have everyone involved quarantine themselves for a couple of weeks to make sure no one has it before the gathering, and you should all be safe.
If such quarantining isn’t possible, make sure to take adequate cleanliness measures throughout the party. Children are germ factories, for sure, but they’re also very rarely affected by Coronavirus, and recover from the flu quite quickly. It’s more the parents you have to worry about. A small gathering with two or three close friends can be safe enough.
15. Delay the Party
You’re not the only one in the social isolation boat. Children might want to celebrate their birthdays, but if a party simply isn’t possible, you can always delay it. Many children will acquiesce when the situation is fully explained to them, and the promise of a better party down the line may be more than enough to convince them.
Plan a bigger and better party down the line. If the situation is right for it, you might even be able to get a few other parents on board and plan a mega-party for all the kids who have to delay. Pull out all the stops! It might not happen for six months or more, but when it does, rent your party supplies, pool money for an all-out extravaganza, and make everyone feel extra special.
Whether it’s a bad flu season or a global pandemic, it affects everyone, and it’s a hurdle we all have to cope with. Treating it with respect, while still keeping your kids happy, is a fine line to walk.
What’s your favorite idea for dealing with the situation?