When should you leave your child at a birthday party

Manoeuvring our way through the party paraphernalia and into the backyard, I spied eight boisterous four-year-old boys blazing about the place, yet, to my surprise, not a single other adult was in sight. And that's when it dawned on me: my husband and I were the only parents who'd chosen to stay with their child at this birthday party.

After the initial shock wore off - and an uncomfortable conversation was had with the hosts about our apparent unexpected attendance - it posed the question that is popular in parenting circles: just how do you gauge the appropriate age to leave your child at a party without your presence?

At what age can kids be left at birthday parties?
At what age can kids be left at birthday parties? Photo: Getty Images

Jodie Benveniste, psychologist, author and director of Parent Wellbeing, states that this is a parenting question with no definitive answer, as there are so many variables to take into consideration. "There is no set age to leave your child at a birthday party. It is up to you to make your best judgement," she counsels. In order to do this Benveniste suggests you ask yourself a series of questions to determine whether your child is ready for this social step.

  • Do you know the family well?
  • Has your child been to their house before? Or is the party in a public location? Is that location safe and secure?
  • How mature is your child?
  • How comfortable do they feel being left? How comfortable do you feel?

After asking herself similar questions to what Benveniste recommends, Karen, a mother of two, felt that the ages of between eight and nine was appropriate for her boys to be left without her supervision at a birthday party.

"The main considerations that contributed to the decision was not their ability to socially interact, but more to do with their ability to take direction from adults who are not their parents or teacher as well as their ability to recognise safe people and safe places," she says. This theme of safety - from stranger danger to looking out for the wellbeing of your friends - is something Karen firmly believes should be discussed before you make this important choice. "Sadly child protection has to be a consideration."

Another factor that can often help you make this decision for the first time is if you have a sibling's needs to consider. This was the case for mum of two, Danielle, who has had no choice but to leave her seven-year-old child at a party without her presence. "When my husband is working and I have my son in tow sometimes it's not possible to stay. Try telling a three-year-old he has to watch his sister on the trampoline for an hour!" Danielle laments.

She has a point. Siblings can often influence this decision, as was the case for me the first time I made the choice to let my child attend a party solo. My 18-month-old was ill, and with no one to watch her, my son was going to have to miss out on his friend's festivities. But, as the parent of the birthday boy was someone I considered a very trustworthy guardian, and my son was comfortable to let me leave, I opted to do so.

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And while it can be tough to take that first step towards independence, Benveniste reminds us this:

"Raising kids is a process of letting go. We need to give our kids new experiences where they can grow their independence. A birthday party is often a fun event with friends where they can get involved and they don't necessarily need your care and attention."

So when it comes time for you to tussle with this decision, remember every situation will be unique. It happened sooner than expected for me and my child, and while I will always endeavour to attend birthday parties with him for the next year or two, discretion and flexibility is the key. Do only what feels right for you and your child and you cannot make an incorrect choice.

DO

Check if there is adequate adult supervision on hand to monitor all children present.

Consider both your child's feelings and your own.

Make the decision together.

DON'T

Worry about what other families are doing; be comfortable with your choice.

Be afraid to let go and allow this to happen when the timing is right for you both.

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