Millions of families in America go overboard on birthday celebrations. Whether it is a toddler’s first birthday or a teenage girl’s 16th; food, entertainment, backyard amenities, choice locations, and extreme party frills push the bottom line for birthdays way over what the thirty year old parent experienced in their youth.
Over-the-top birthday thinking puts pressure on kids of average means to upscale their parties and to worry about whether their gifts are “good enough”. It places guilt on parents about what they do or don't do, where, for how many, and with what extra bells and whistles for the attendees. Overall, it takes a lot of fun out of the event and a lot of money out of our wallets to keep raising the birthday bash bar higher and higher.
Believe it or not, birthdays can be turned on end to be about sharing. If your child has adequate amounts of stuff, maybe TOO MUCH STUFF, and if you have had it with keeping up with the birthday-Joneses, take a different path for the next birthday that emphasizes sharing instead of the traditional focus on getting. Financially healthy adults know how to spend, save and share. With a twist on birthday parties to give young people an opportunity to give as well as receive, we are doing something to teach sharing, and that seems more novel than it should be these days.
Consider these options:
- Talk to your child about the many ways in which people share – giving their time, recycling clothes, donating money to good causes, buying extra food items for families in need.
- Before the party, take your child to one or more charities online or in person to learn more about people who can be helped by giving.
- Perhaps specify on invitations a gift cap of $10 or $15 and ask guests to please also bring a monetary donation, donation of clothing, food pantry goods, or other needed items to benefit the birthday boy or girl's chosen charity.
- Tie in a party activity such as building bird houses when the charity theme such is homeless shelters or housing programs, making emergency kits when the theme is disaster relief, making cheer boxes for kids in hospitals and rehabilitation centers.
- Another gift alternative is to let people do what they would normally in terms of gift giving, but to mention on invitations that half the presents will be donated to a local charity of your child's choice.
- Suggest to your child that she clean out her room to make space for her new toys and find a charitable new home for gently used toys and clothes that are removed and are in good condition.
- After the party, deliver all donations to charities together.
- Encourage your child draw a picture or write a story about her recent sharing experience and encourage her to tell her classmates or youth group friends.
This article is adapted from one written by Megan O’Neil-Haight, The University of Maryland Extension, and originally published in Delmarva Youth Magazine, September/October 2006.