Question: A recent conversation was overheard between a child and the parents about birthday party plans for a sleepover. The family had lost their home and possessions in the recent flooding in Louisiana. The young child wanted to talk about plans for his birthday party and the parents were having to carefully and sensitively explain how can we have a party now, we don’t even have a house? What do we do when we experience some kind of catastrophic loss as this, a death in the immediate family, living in a shelter, or some circumstance where the normal celebrations are on pause or have to take a back seat to a current situation?
It’s important to consider what you really want the child to remember about this day and how you want the child to feel at the end of the day. What do you want the child to remember most about this day…denied a party altogether or that his family found a different way to celebrate? The age of the child is one of the major factors to take into consideration on how you plan their new birthday celebration. Here are some ideas to help a child feel heard, seen, and celebrated during these times when the usual plans must to be changed:
- On the day of the child’s birthday, have the family sing Happy Birthday first thing in the a.m. or as soon as the family is together.
- Write a handwritten card or letter, coloring it and drawing designs on it wishing her/him great wishes.
- Write a poem or a prayer. Each family member could write a line or two or more.
- Hold or sit close to the child, look him/her in the eye and let her know how sorry you are that things changed in ‘this’ way and that it affected ‘her’ day like this and that sometimes things change and we have to change our plans too and do the best we can at the time.
- Turn the TV off for the whole day and hang out playing cards, reading, coloring, singing, dancing.
- Take a walk, singing, dancing, talking about the colors of the trees, the animals, birds, flowers.
- Throw a football or baseball around or play basketball or soccer.
- Go to a library for part of the day.
- On a calendar, circle a new birthday date where the real celebration will be held on or before that date.
- Gather rocks outside for each family member. Paint a word about a quality that you appreciate about the child. Paint a picture of a fun time with the child that you remember. Place all of the rocks in a special bowl or box in the child’s room.
- At night, lay outside on a blanket and look at the stars and for every star tell her something you love and adore about her.
- Choose a tree to have a picnic under, name a tree after the child. “From this day forward, this tree’s name is ____birthday tree.”
- Take a walk throughout the neighborhood and visit neighbors and help them with something that needs doing. Giving to others is a great way to receive so much love and have a great time building community and celebrating.
- Visit others and let them know it’s the child’s birthday and you are out and about inviting the neighborhood to a birthday party that will be given next month or on whatever date was circled on the calendar.
- Have each family member write a list of what they are grateful for about having the child in the family and then read the list to the child out loud.
- Have everyone use their grandest imaginations and share ideas about a perfect make believe birthday party.
- Ask the child for some ideas that would be an alternative kind of celebration.
Times like these are rough for young children who don’t quite understand about loss of life or possessions and they need a lot of TLC during these times and especially if a birthday falls during these times. As parents, we want to create happy environments and memories for our children. Be as gentle, easy, loving and kind to yourself and your child during times like these. Celebrating the child and nourishing the family relationships will provide much needed stability during turbulent times.