If you’re struggling to relate to your “tween” — a child between ages 10 and 12 — you’re not alone.
Recent research highlighted in an episode of “This American Life” indicates that changes to the brain are happening during middle school ages faster and more dramatically than when your child navigated the “terrible twos.”
(I know what you’re thinking: “Sounds like a party!”)
Speaking of parties… This developmental milestone makes planning a birthday party for kids this age a different sort of challenge. Suddenly, your child has emerging social needs that are different than earlier in childhood. Both boys and girls strive to fit in with the crowd. Most tweens begin to test parental boundaries. And, like your once-fussy two-year-old, your tween can be adorable one minute and a beast the next.
Throwing a party into the mix? Wow, that can be trying even for the most dedicated parent! But, it’s worth the effort. A birthday party at this age can still be a lot of fun and memorable for the whole family.
“Too old for toys, too young for boys,” is the way some describe pre-adolescent girls. Using this as a guideline for both sexes, you want to plan a party that isn’t too childish — and offers a bit of age-appropriate freedom.
And, of course: The party needs to be fun!
Here are some ideas that work for both boys and girls:
This theme has so much room for fun expression! You can provide karaoke, guitar lessons, temporary tattoos. You can rent a party location where it can get as loud as you want — and put on the show! The invitations can look like backstage passes and, for one day, you can encourage all the rowdy behavior you want!
No, this party isn’t just for girls. Yes, girls can enjoy hair, makeup, and nails. But boys can come too and get temporary tattoos, streaks of temporary hair color or faux-hawks. Activities can include face-painting, games, or going out on the town for a meal or other treat after their star treatment.
Pool parties work well when combined with other activities like sports (volleyball), physical games (Twister), and, of course, food! Barbecue, hamburgers, hot dogs — all make great dishes in addition to birthday cake. One caveat: Some tweens may be self-conscious as puberty and body image issues emerge. So it’s best to ask the guest of honor first before planning this kind of party. Remember that the pool party invitations should remind attendees to bring a towel and any additional clothing necessary for related activities.
Bowling parties can be as simple as going bowling or as specialized as planning a nighttime bowl where you rent out the entire facility. Check with your local bowling alley to see what kinds of specials they have for birthdays. Some will allow you to cater in food, and others will want you to buy food they sell there.
You might want to include anticipated costs for the attendees (shoe rental, etc.) on the bowling party invitations if you don’t plan to pay for everyone. It may be worthwhile to keep the attendee number lower so you can treat all the guests.
Tweens love to learn new things — and likely there is a local artist who would be willing to give a group art lesson for a reasonable fee. Pick a single medium, like clay, or multiple media to explore for the afternoon. You can cater snacks and cakes and offer party gifts in addition to the artwork the attendees take home. TLC offers some ideas for throwing an arts and crafts party here.
In short, there are many creative possibilities for a party that suits your tween’s interests and personality. Get them involved with the planning process, and you can even turn this into lessons about budgeting, meal planning, social graces, and more.
These valuable life lessons are just a few of the additional gifts you’ll really be giving them for their birthday. After all, the process is sure to help you celebrate your child growing a little more mature, and your evolution as a parent, too.
Katie McCaskey is a freelance journalist for Vistaprint.com, a leading provider of custom invitations for bowling parties and other theme parties for tweens. Katie is also co-owner of a neighborhood café in Staunton, Virginia which hosts birthday parties of all sizes.