CANDY ALLAN: How do you know when they’re ‘too old?’

Recently, my son celebrated his 12th birthday with a couple of his friends who slept over at our house. As the boys were running through the woods chasing down enemy soldiers or Stormtroopers or whatever, my husband turned to me and asked, “When do we stop doing birthday parties? When is he too old for them?”

I don’t know.

It’s easy to tell if kids are too young for something, generally … they can’t reach the switch or understand the words or whatever. But when are they too OLD?

We didn’t take away the kids’ picture books after they could read because they enjoyed taking a break with the “easy books” when they didn’t want to work on reading. When they decided they wanted the shelf space for Geronimo Stilton, Mickey Mouse exited.

My daughter is nine going on 13, but still has stuffed animals all over her room. She reads to them, talks to them and takes them on adventures.

The tricycles are in the past, now that bicycles have taken their place. Even the training wheels are relegated to mere memory. The T-ball bat gathers dust, as do the Little People and the Megablocks.

But Bailey will still drag out the plastic food that goes to the kitchen and play restaurant from time to time, or even fish out the crayons and color once in a while.

So when are they “too old” for something? I used to attempt to be on top of this. The pacifiers and sippy cups went on my schedule. The teething rings and soft balls with bells inside disappeared when I thought it was appropriate.

Most of the time anymore, I tend to follow their lead. If somebody’s still playing with the kitchen set, I’ll let it stay in the dining room. If they want to look at picture books, I’ll leave them on their shelves.

I’m not sure it’s a shift in my theory of parenting — it may just be laziness, taking the easy way out. I do still enforce cleaning out too-small clothes from the closet, but the toys and books are up to them.

So what do I do about activities? DO birthday parties stop at a certain age? For example, we had planned to take the kids to a play while visiting Lansing over spring break, but when we arrived, we realized the play was designed for younger children — MUCH younger children, in fact.

Yes, we knew going in it was Winnie the Pooh, but we didn’t quite appreciate the fact that Pooh is behind our children now. I don’t think the kids even quite realized they were too old for the play until we arrived.

We’d told them we were going to see a Winnie the Pooh play and they were good with it until they saw the rest of the audience wasn’t likely old enough for kindergarten.

I know trick-or-treating is on its way out, though the candy retains its popularity. Will the same thing happen with birthday parties? How do you tell?

Let’s be honest, I’ve been making up this parenting thing as I go along ever since my son was born. I know there’s more experienced parents out there and folks with different ideas. Respond to my column by emailing me at, and you might see your thoughts in print in an upcoming issue of the Pioneer.