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Pass the Parcel—is it OK to disappoint?

I’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.

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.

About AJ Sutherland

Author, copywriter and regular procrastinator, Angela's latest book London with Kids is jam-packed with real-life tips on travelling with young children. When she's not writing books, blogs, or anything in-between, ...

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