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Pass the Parcel – is it OK to disappoint?

Children all win at pass the parcelI’m in the midst of birthday parties at the moment.

Every weekend is a haze of cake, bouncy castles, presents and party games as many of the children I know, including one of mine, become a year older.

This was my first year of ‘proper’ parties. Previous child birthday parties have mostly been about the parents pouring some well-earned bubbles, whilst the children played with the wrapping paper. But now the kiddies are getting older, party games are making an appearance – the most prominent being Pass The Parcel.

However, there has been a huge adjustment to the rules of this age-old game since I was a child … a shift which I’m quite overtly opposed to. Because when did we become so concerned about disappointing our children, that we now put a prize in every layer?

Rewind 20 (ish!) years, and I can still remember sitting eagerly in the circle watching the parcel go around. I remember the anticipation as the parcel approached, the longing for the music to stop, the excitement when I peeled back the wrapping of ‘is this the last layer’? I didn’t care what was in the middle, it was never anything significant, I just wanted to be the one that opened it.

And yes, there was disappointment when it was not The One, but there was also high hopes all over again as I passed the parcel on, that it could all still happen, that the game wasn’t over.

The game wasn’t about the prize, it was about the playing, the prospect, the wonder, the surprise.

Now, fast forward to current day parenting and imagine my confusion when none of that existed anymore.

Every time the music stopped, the child unwrapped the parcel expecting a prize, rifling through the wrapping to find what was deservedly theirs. Of course, it wasn’t the central prize, but it was still something to placate the child for not winning.

MORE: Check out our Children’s Birthday Party Hub for party ideas and cake inspiration

Now, I never want my children to be sad, let down or disappointed if I can help it. But I also want them to appreciate the rarity and elation of an unexpected surprise, and understand the difference between that and the presumption that something will automatically be theirs – simply for taking part.

Am I being too idealistic in this modern world, or is it possible for our kids to accept that disappointment as an inherent part of playing a game, just as the excitement, jubilation, and possible triumph are too. Eliminate one, and don’t you also depreciate the other?

I know when it’s time for Pass The Parcel in my house, there will be only one prize, and that is the tube of smarties cleverly disguised inside many layers of colourful wrapping, boxes and ribbons. That, and the excitement of playing the game.

I’m sure there will be plenty of disappointment when that first layer is opened and it is empty, but hopefully everyone will quickly realise that eagerly sitting in that circle with your friends is the ultimate prize.

Image credit: allika/123RF Stock Photo

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6 comments so far -

  1. ooooh i agree!! inly ever had the main prize as a kid, but have seen the prizes in every layer with every kids party i have gone to as an adult, i would love to keep it how it was way back when, but when this ever layer bizzo is what this generation knows, will i then be labelled as the stingey mum and cause my kids to be bullied about it???

  2. Guilty as charged. At my eldest daughters 5th birthday party I put a plastic toy in each layer o the “parcel” and made sure everybody got something. You’re right that children need to learn the age old lesson “that you can’t win them all”. Victory is all the sweeter for having dealt with disappointment. I’ll rethink my party game strategy next time.

    • yeah I did do the prezzie in every wrapper. It was just an el-cheapo bead thing for each little girl – but I just wanted to see them all smile.

      To me, it is about all of them having a good time, having something exciting and happy … they were still excited as to who would get the prize in the middle (which wasnt anything spectacular) … but they were also very excited to get their bead necklace and spent the rest of the party playing with them.

  3. Growing up, pass the parcel always had a present in each layer. Just a small present like a lolly pop or snake, a chocolate or maybe a balloon etc. And there was a grand prize in the middle. It wasn’t done for fairness, just for fun. I will do the same thing.g

  4. Excellent post! I won’t be putting a prize in every wrapper either! But I’ve also witnessed another pass-the-parcel-based parenting dilemma … the birthday boy or girl gets to win the prize! I don’t think that one is teaching anyone a helpful life lesson either!

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