14 Free Ways To Celebrate Your Kid's Birthday

Birthday Parties, New York City

Have you ever experienced birthday burnout? You know, the feeling that overcomes your family when you're cupcaked, partied and goody-bagged out by the time your kid's real birthday arrives? Birthday burnout can be intensified for kids who have multiple celebrations leading up to their birthdays—in school, with relatives and after school—and sometimes the big day is anticlimatic.

Banish the burnout with 14 super simple and fun ideas to make your kid's birthday as special as he or she is without big presents, treats or spending a lot of money. These ideas create a bit of magic and make the birthday child feel special just having fun together.

Check out our Birthday Party Guide for more ideas for the big day, or our 100 Things to Do in NYC list for more memory-making inspiration.

1. Start out the day with a special birthday breakfast, complete with candles and a round of "Happy Birthday." If possible, get up early and make your kid's favorite breakfast or find the time to make it together. Do this again at lunch and dinner.

2. While your child is at school, fill up his or her room with helium balloons, or decorate it with streamers and other birthday decor. Greet your child with a personal-sized mug cake when you pick he or she up.

3. Blow up a bunch of regular latex balloons early in the morning while your kid is sleeping; cover the floor with them for a surprise.

4. Write "Happy Birthday!" on the bathroom mirror or window with shaving cream.


Sneak a love note into their lunch box. Photo by Mommy Poppins.

5. Put a surprise birthday note or card in his or her lunch bag, backpack or coat pocket telling them you love them.

6. Announce special upcoming activities you have planned, such as a vacation or something they've wanted to do forever. Even if you were planning to do it anyway, call it a special birthday gift.

7. If there is something on the horizon like the addition of a pet or an increase in his or her allowance, do the big reveal. We told our son we would move his bedtime by one hour on his birthday, which made it seem more important.

8. We may catch flak for this, but if possible, play hooky with your child and do something fun together. Visit a favorite museum, restaurant or destination playground. C'mon, it's one day a year.

9. Take an identically posed photo of your child every year on the big day. When you have enough pictures, turn them into a digital slide show or put them into an album. Review it each year on his or her birthday.

10. Celebrate the exact minute of his or her birth as if it were midnight on New Year's Eve. Bang pots and pans, throw confetti and blow horns.

11. Write your child a birthday letter every year. Wrap up the year; say how you've seen them grow and change and why they are so special. If your child isn't yet old enough to cherish the letters, save them. Read them together every year.

12. Do an annual sweep of his or her possessions and donate unwanted books and toys to charity. It's a great way to bond while helping others and you're also making room for the inevitable presents. 


Look at old photos and retell the day of their birth, the good parts anyway! Photo by _e.t via Flickr.

13. Reminisce about the day he or she was born. Look at baby photos, re-read any cards you have, watch home videos and share funny stories—in our case, how daddy locked his keys in the car during a huge snowstorm. Move on to more recent milestones such as the first day of school or another occasion.

14. Let the birthday child call the shots for the day. He or she can choose dinner or the days' activities. Maybe let them break a couple of rules or stay up past bedtime.

This post was originally published in March 2012.

Top photo: Make the day special by letting your kid call the shots for a change. Photo by Paul Ashley via Flickr.

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