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Birthday Celebrations for your Child

Birthdays are wonderful opportunities to celebrate your child.  It’s a day you can tell your child that you’re so glad you have him/her, how much s/he means to you, and just how special s/he is to you.  (Note:  these are messages that you can share with your child every day, but you can make a particular emphasis on these points on your child’s birthday.)  Your child’s birthday is one day that is all about him/her.  It’s about fun, excitement, bonding, and bolstering self-esteem for your child, but it does come with some risk.

Many parents start a child’s birthday by singing the “Happy Birthday” song to him/her when s/he first wakes up.  Parents may regale the child with the story of his/her birth . . . this may become the tradition for each birthday for the child.  Then, at some point during the day, a celebration involving guests typically commences.  Whatever celebration is chosen, it needs to center on the interests and personality of the birthday boy/girl and the family culture.  It bolters the child’s self-esteem to be the focus of so much positive attention and praise, and if the child gets to help determine how his/her birthday will be celebrated, then that also bolsters his/her self-esteem by making him/her feel all the more important to you (i.e., in that that you let his/her opinion matter).

However, birthday celebrations can be opportunities for comparison and negative consequences for your child as well.  Your child will likely see his/her friends, neighbors, and classmates having birthday parties.  These parties will set his/her birthday paradigm.  If your child perceives his/her birthday as more-than or less-than his paradigm, problems can result.

If the neighbor child is having a large party with an inflatable midway in the backyard, your child may see his/her birthday dinner and dessert with friends and presents as nice but not as nice as the neighbor’s inflatable midway birthday celebration.  While it’s not important to “keep up with the Joneses” regarding your child’s birthday celebrations, you  do need to communicate openly with your child about why his/her birthday celebrations are different from the birthday celebrations that s/he is using as his/her comparator.  For example, if your child says that s/he wants a birthday celebration like the neighbor had, you may say, “Yes, that inflatable midway was amazing.  However, we don’t want to do that here because that’s very expensive, and we don’t want your birthday to be about money.  We are not a stuff-oriented family.  That’s why most of your wrapped presents are little things.  We think your biggest gifts are experiences . . . like your getting to do whatever (within reason) that you want to do on your big day.  Last year, you wanted to go fishing on the morning of your birthday, so we took you and some of your little buddies fishing.  We had a lot of fun doing that.  In our family, the best gift of all is the time we all spend together.  With that in mind, what would you like to do to celebrate your birthday this year? ”

Alternatively, if the neighbor child is having a cake-and-ice-cream birthday party, your child may see his/her own inflatable midway birthday party as a clearly superior way to celebrate.  While inflatable midways are fun, as are many other expensive birthday celebrations, they may send children the wrong message inasmuch as such expenditures may cause children to value monetary things more than the simple joy of time spent with those you care about.  Materialism, greed, selfishness, and false friends can result.  If you, on occasion, want to “splurge” and celebrate your child’s birthday in extravagant fashion, you need to communicate openly with your child about why his/her birthday celebration, on that occasion, is different from the birthday celebrations that s/he uses as his/her comparator.  For example, you may say, “You have been wanting an inflatable midway for your birthday for several years now.  I heard you speak about it as recently as just the other day.  So, your dad and I talked about it, and we’ve decided that you will have an inflatable midway at your birthday party this year.  It’s important that you know, though, that this is a splurge; big things like this won’t always happen on your birthday.  That’s because, in our family, the biggest gift is the gift of love, the gift of togetherness.  Ok?”

By handling birthday parties that differ from your child’s paradigm as indicated above, you can avert the negative consequences that can result from those differences.

Religion as it impacts birthday celebrations bears special note.  Some religions prohibit celebrating birthdays.  If your child cannot, for religious reasons, celebrate his/her birthday, it will be important for you to communicate your faith to your child.  The children of your church will help your child have a no-celebration birthday paradigm, but neighbors and classmates of other faiths will have birthday parties that may entice your child.  By emphasizing your faith-based tenets regarding birthday celebrations, you can help your child understand that love is communicated every day in your family and that no family needs a birthday celebration to tell a child that s/he is loved and valued.

In sum, birthdays can be wonderful celebrations of your child, or they can be opportunities for your child to compare his/her party to others and experience negative consequences as a result of that comparison.  How you handle the comparison makes all the difference.

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