I was never a fan of birthday parties when I was a child, I never wanted them to celebrate my own birthday. My eldest went to his first party at the age of four and absolutely hated it and asked that we never go to another. At that particular party he did not know any other children except the birthday boy, it was very noisy, busy and games were played, this I later established was his hatred the noise and the games.
Each time he has been invited to a party we have had a discussion about whether he would like to go and I have had to find out whether there will be games played. If I find out there is we don't go, especially if I feel that there will be no opting out. Lately he has been more excited about the prospect of parties as he has made some good friends and therefore knows most of the children. He has also joined in with some of the games at some of the parties we have been to.
Today I got it completely wrong and have not seen him so distressed in a long time. It was a party of a good friend of his but it was not what he was expecting at all and he hardly set foot in the door before he retreated back to the car. It was all the things he hated as a younger child, noisy and with lots of children he did not know and with games although absolutely no coercion to join in. His absence was noted,but no fuss made for which I am immensely grateful. He did come in as he was hungry and we retreated to a quieter room so he could eat. We ended up staying after all the other guests had left and he played with his friend, quietly for a good hour before we headed home.
I talked to him after we got home, I discovered that I was right about the noise and the unfamiliar children. I asked him if he would rather we had stayed at home, he was unsure he had had a good time but not at the start. We have decided that we need to go back to those conversations that we had when he was younger.