How to celebrate birthdays when life is on hold

Helen O’Callaghan says a gesture is more important than a gift.
How to celebrate birthdays when life is on hold

The Covid-19 virus has shut down much of life, but it can’t stop a child’s birthday falling within this period of social distancing and restricted movement.

Of course, how you celebrate your child’s birthday will be very different.

Laura Erskine, parenting expert with online mum-and-baby community, BabyDoc Club, says the best-laid party plans will have to be set aside.

She advises parents who are struggling with how to let their child down, and with how to manage the disappointment, to be honest.

“Acknowledge any feelings they express. Validate these feelings, through understanding, words, and hugs.

Then, get them involved in creating the best-possible alternative party and plan a second party when restrictions lift,” Ms Erskine says.

Promise of a special party when social-distancing is no longer required can certainly be comforting, especially for older children, as I discovered when my daughter turned 10 a week after schools closed. (Was I glad I’d kept in storage for a rainy day some superfluous gifts she’d got over the last year.)

Ms Erskine says younger children may not be aware or may not be upset that this year’s birthday party is less elaborate than it was in previous years.

Children look to their parents for reassurance and to help regulate their emotions: once you show your child just how excited you are about whatever creative celebrations you have in mind, they’ll follow your lead.

"What’s most important is making them feel special on the anniversary of the date of their birth,” Ms Erskine says.

A mum of three, Erskine hasn’t experienced a ‘lockdown birthday’ yet, but her son James turns 11 in a few weeks’.

“So it’s still a possibility I need to be prepared for,” she says.

Ms Erskine suggests that parents and siblings create a birthday treasure hunt, so the little person of the moment can have fun following the clues to find their birthday gift.

The gift could be a small token, with a voucher for a much sought-after item, or Amazon may have come through and delivered in time.

Another idea — similar to Covid-19-defying sing-alongs across Italian piazzas — is a ‘street party’.

“If you’re part of a residents’ association or have a WhatsApp group with your neighbours, why not plan a neighbourhood celebration for your little one.

"Invite all the neighbours to go out to their front door/garden at a specific time and watch your child’s face light up when they all sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in unison,” Ms Erskine says.

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