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21 Ways to Surprise Your Kids (and Tips for When a Surprise Goes Bad)

21 Ways to Surprise Your Kids (and Tips for When a Surprise Goes Bad)


SURPRISE!! If you want to surprise your kids these are the must know tips to know in advance. Surprises don’t always go smoothly and in fact, can backfire very quickly! These are the important things to know before you surprise your kids, how to handle things when a surprise goes bad, and some simply sweet ways to surprise your children.

Teenagers holding Black Tap Crazy Shakes at Anaheim Downtown Disney District Disneyland

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This article originally published June 4th, 2018 and has been updated and republished with a new date.

You Want to Surprise Your Kids?

You’re plotting and planning out the perfect way to surprise your kids. Maybe it’s a big surprise party with all his friends for a milestone birthday. Or you’re surprising a kid with their first cell phone. I bet it’s a surprise Disney vacation!! That’s always fun, right? 

Ehh, maybe? Kids can be surprisingly sensitive and emotional about things that aren’t a part of their usual routine. As I’m sure you already know, sometimes the slightest thing can set off a kid’s mood.

And that goes for surprises, no matter how amazing that surprise is. Surprises can make some kids cry. Or get mad. Or even be embarrassed or disappointed.

Even the best surprise can go wrong. But there are many ways it can go right, so keep reading!

Mom and preschool daughter laughing as they point to snacks in a box

The Good and Bad of Surprising Kids

Here’s one of my personal stories – Several years ago, my daughter’s junior high school teacher sent me an email to let me know that my daughter would be receiving an award. My first question back to the teacher was, “Did you tell her she’s getting the award? We can’t make it a surprise”.

See, I’ve learned over the years that my daughter isn’t the kind of kid who enjoys surprises. Getting called up in front of her classmates to stand on stage and have the teacher offer a glowing review? That would be akin to facing the firing squad for an easily-embarrassed 14-year old.

Several years earlier, my kid’s 6th grade teacher insisted on surprising her with an award. The poor child stood in front of her schoolmates, crying openly. The teacher felt badly. And now we know: Surprises just aren’t the best idea for this child.

Is there ever a good time to surprise kids? Should certain surprises be allowed? Is it a rite of passage to surprise kids and let them deal with it, even if it might upset them?

A surprise breakfast while running errands!

WHY Do You Want to Surprise Your Child?

Whether is a surprise trip or a birthday surprise party, the temptation to plan a huge SURPRISE for kids is strong! The question you need to ask is “Why”? You may suppose that the surprise is an exciting way to make big announcements.

Is the Surprise Part of the Fun? Maybe…

If you think that the surprise adds to the celebration, then go forward (after reading the rest of the cautions in this post!).

But is the surprise is just your way of sharing the information? Then the actual event should stand on its own.

Don’t diminish the celebration by tacking on the surprise beginning, unless it’s adding that-much-more to the emotional punch. Only if you think that your child can appropriately handle the surprise, as well. The aim of surprising a kid should be happy tears, not outright crying.

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!
A surprise trip to the beach after church was a welcome respite.

Who’s in on the Surprise?

Secret keeping. Little white lies. Sneaking. It can be hard to keep a surprise a secret. More often than not, the person getting surprised starts getting an uneasy feeling that something fishy is going on.

If your surprise relies on being overly sneaky or telling your child a lie, you may want to rethink the surprise plan. No child wants that awkward feeling when the truth is revealed.

Also many kids won’t appreciate that you planned something special without them. They may have hurt feelings knowing that you were keeping secrets with their teacher, family member or friend behind their back. It won’t matter to them the reasoning, they may be upset all the same.

Pistachio pudding was a special treat for my kiddo

Know Your Child Before You Plan a Surprise

My 6-year old son is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. I could surprise him with just about anything and he’d go joyfully right along with it. I’ve surprised him with a Disneyland trip and he was just delighted. But not every kid is like that.

Some People Need Time to Process

In fact, most kids (and some adults) are the opposite. Many kids need ample time to process before an event. Only you truly know your child and how they will react to a surprise. Special needs kids especially might not be welcome to surprises of any kind.

There’s no point in planning what’s supposed to be a FUN event and then having the initial reaction put a damper on the celebration.

Easing Kids Into Surprises

Not sure how your child will react to a surprise? Start small with little surprises and see how it goes.

Change Up the Routine

Slight changes in the regular routine can help your kids to be more flexible. Try something like, “Today we’re doing something different! We’re doing/going to….” and then surprise them with something that’s unusual for your normal schedule.

Choose a Can’t-Lose Experience

Make it something that your kid usually enjoys, like the park, library, movies, play date, picnic, baking cupcakes, etc.

See how your child reacts to the adjustment in routine. Watch your child’s face and body language. From here you’ll be able to gauge how kid will react to a bigger surprise.

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!
Everyone’s in the car, but the destination is a surprise!

Allow Time to Let the News Soak In

Don’t think that you can’t EVER surprise your kids! Surprises are ultimately changes in what’s expected. Kids absolutely need to learn how to be flexible, how to roll-with-the-punches and how to adjust to change.

But there are ways of doing a surprise that honors your child’s personality, doesn’t embarrass them and also builds their trust in you.

Make a Fun Surprise Announcement

Instead of making the surprise happen right then and there, make the announcement the surprise. Avoid putting kids “on the spot” in a public location. Make surprise announcements at home without an audience present.

Lots of families make the announcement of a special event on Christmas morning as part of their child’s Christmas gifts. There are so many creative ways to make the big reveal, including a scavenger hunt or a phone call.

Surprised my baseball loving son with a surprise game!

To Video the Surprise or Not?

You may want to video the surprise, but we all know kids act weird when we turn on the camera!

Skip filming the announcement or consider hiding the camera to show them the video later. And only share on social media if you have your child’s consent.

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!
Is a surprise birthday party ever a good idea?

Allow Time Between the Announcement and the Event

Processing thoughts and feelings can take some kids time. Personally for my kids, I try to inform them several months before a trip. This allows us to discuss the plans over and over. My kids enjoy working out the little details of a trip including activities, meals and schedule.

Fortunately we’ve never had any crazy travel meltdowns and I know that pre-vacation prep is a big part of that reason. When we know what to expect, we can relax and know what’s going to happen next.

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!
Surprise, we bought you a new bike!

Surprises That Involve Friends

The very element of surprise is the reaction that it ensues. The reaction from your child after a surprise could be a squeal of excitement. It could also be embarrassment or overwhelming emotions that can’t be contained. And no child wants to cry in front of their friends.

How to Surprise Children with Friends Involved

While surprise birthday parties with your child’s entire class might sound like a blast to you, this may be incredibly overwhelming for your kid. Instead of an unexpected surprise, involve your child in the planning process so they have more control over the events.

If you REALLY want to create a surprise that includes friends, choose carefully. Invite only one or two very close friends that are more like family.

Some kids even feel awkward opening gifts in front of their friends. The uncomfortable feeling of not knowing, “What’s inside?!” Then having to gauge a proper response in front of a crowd can make some kids upset.

Consider opening gifts after the party if your child can’t handle the surprise element of opening gifts in front of their friends.

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!

Birthday Morning Surprises

If a boisterous party is out of the question, try some of these amazing ideas for birthday celebrations:

  • Birthday gift scavenger hunt.
  • Tie a helium balloon to their backpack on a school day.
  • Hang a birthday banner in a prominent place within the home.
  • Have a best friend show up at the front door with sleeping bags for a surprise sleepover!
  • Arrange friends and family to mail your child a birthday card.

Disneyland or Walt Disney World Surprise

Living a short drive from Disneyland, I’ve had my share of Disneyland surprise vacations. I have a vivid memory of my parents surprising us with a Disney family vacation – instead of going to school! I was about ten years old and the surprise was great!

I’ve also surprised my son on his birthday with a Disneyland trip. We go to Disney frequently, so he was familiar and excited about the day trip. But the surprise was still a big deal.

And I think that’s the key. My son had been to Disneyland before. Therefore the place, events, rides weren’t a surprise on the actual trip. Just the fact that we were going was the surprise. But once I surprised him with the day’s plans, he was thrilled because he knew what to expect when we got there.

A surprise birthday Disneyland trip for my son’s 5th birthday. It went over well because he’s been to Disneyland before.

Why You Shouldn’t Have a Surprise Disney Vacation

My friend and fellow blogger Jessica at The Happiest Blog on Earth suggests that parents Don’t Do a Surprise Disneyland Trip. Jessica brings up some great points, including my favorite – Kids should be involved in the Disney vacation planning.

Everyone Should Be Involved in Vacation Planning, Including Kids!

I’m totally against making your very first Disney vacation a complete surprise. I always cringe when I hear about parents taking their kids to the airport and getting on an early flight to Disney when the kids don’t know where they’re headed.

If your kids have been to Disney before, the surprise may go over better. This is only because the kids will know what to expect when they get there. But if it’s your first time planning a Disney vacation, I recommend letting kids get involved in the planning before the trip.

Gadget's Go Coaster seats with young boy

Disney Destinations Surprise Twists

You can still make the vacation a Disney surprise, if it’s handled in a delicate way. There are tons of cute ways to surprise the kids at home, several months ahead of your trip. If you’re planning a surprise Disney trip, using souvenirs as a gift is a fun reveal to the announcement. Try one of these ideas:

  • Order Mickey Ears from the Disney Store.
  • Have Magic Bands sent to the house, then have children open the box to see what’s inside.
  • Purchase autograph books.
  • Coordinating Disney shirts for the whole family is a great idea to reveal a family trip.
  • Present kids with a big box of theme park goodies.
  • Use a stuffed Mickey Mouse or other favorite Disney character to hold a sign that announces, “You’re Going on a Disney Cruise!”
  • Try this Disney Easter Scavenger Hunt free printables for a spring break vacation.
Little girl sitting with Easter basket and Minnie Mouse plush toy

Planning a Surprise Vacation Together

Once the surprise announcement has been disclosed, try some of these fun things to plan:

  • Watch YouTube videos of the rides. View together as a family and plan your trip itinerary.
  • Create a “countdown calendar” in the days leading up to your vacation.
  • Have a family movie night using this list of must-see movies to watch before a Disneyland vacation.

Then check out these other great tips for Disney park travel:

When a Surprise Goes Bad

So what happens if a surprise goes badly? Your son screamed when you surprised him with the announcement that he’s going to be a big brother. Maybe your preschooler cried when you said you were going to Magic Kingdom? And your daughter had a total meltdown when you threw her a surprise birthday party.

Don’t Get Upset

Resist the urge to admonish a child for their poor reaction. It can be difficult to contain our own disappointment when things do go as we planned!

Your child doesn’t want or need to hear about how much your trip costs, how much work you put into the surprise, etc. They just need your reassurance.

Comfort and Calm

A silent hug goes a long way towards comforting your child. Consider pulling them away to a quiet area where they can process and calm down.

Talk About it Later

Later, you can discuss what happened and talk about why you wanted to surprise them. Try these additional ways to help kids during a meltdown.

Want to avoid the Disneyland meltdown on your vacation? Temper tantrums at Disney can be avoided by following these tested tips with advice for a happier kids. Includes a list of quiet places to rest inside the Parks and tips for kids with special needs.

Fun Ways to Surprise Your Kids

Little surprises are a wonderful way to show love and playfulness. There doesn’t have to be a special occasion for these fun ideas!

From fun gift ideas and creative ideas, these are a few simple ways to surprise that will surely delight all children.

  • Put loose change inside the pocket of their jacket.
  • Serve breakfast in bed.
  • Get out the arts and craft supplies on a whim.
  • Host a fun game night with board games, card game and video games.
  • Serve ice cream sundaes for dinner.
  • Declare a special day in which they can choose favorite things to do.
  • Print out favorite photos of you and your kids and tape them onto their bedroom wall.
  • Send them a letter in the mail.
  • Cook a favorite dinner without telling them.
  • Make special treats for dessert.
  • Try Universal Yums, a snack box of treats from around the world. Tasting new flavors has been a fun adventure. What’s inside the box is always a surprise. We never know if we’re going to like a food until we try it. However it’s been great for my kids, knowing that we’re all eating it for the first time together.
Mom feeding preschooler a snack from the Universal Yums box
  • Younger kids love a spontaneous dance party! Put on music and just start moving.
  • Serve a favorite after-school snack on a fancy plate.
  • Take the kids to the local park after school instead of heading straight home.
  • Leave a sweet note next to their plate or a sticky note on the bathroom mirror.
  • Build a living room fort to greet kids when they wake up on a weekend.
  • Create a treasure hunt at home for a small prize.
  • Add cool new stickers to their water bottles.
  • Put a delicious treat in their lunch box.
  • Build a reading nook (a pile of pillows in a corner with a stack of books will suffice).
  • Sit down as a family for movie night. Choose their favorite movie to surprise them with on a Friday night.

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Kid-Friendly Tips on How to Avoid the Disneyland Meltdown

Wednesday 6th of June 2018

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