Don't combine kids' birthdays and holidays, experts say

  • Claire Haran's birthday falls near Christmas, so her mom, Cynthia, tries to do something special for the young girl every year. They had a tea-party-themed bash when she turned 4.

    Claire Haran's birthday falls near Christmas, so her mom, Cynthia, tries to do something special for the young girl every year. They had a tea-party-themed bash when she turned 4. Courtesy of Cynthia Haran

Posted12/5/2013 5:48 AM

It's been years, but Wauconda resident Beverly Linning still remembers the relative who gave her a combined gift each December because her birthday is less than two weeks before Christmas.

"My parents did not combine my birthday and Christmas, but my godmother always did," recalled Linning, 44, whose birthday is Dec. 14. "I did feel slightly cheated."


Combining a birthday celebration with a winter holiday minimizes the specialness a child should celebrate on a birthday, Chicago-area psychologists and social workers say.

"You need to separate them," said Dr. Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University. "The person has to feel that this is their time."

Tami Meer, a licensed clinical social worker who works with kids at offices in Arlington Heights, Skokie and Evanston, strongly agrees.

"Even in the midst of all the craziness of the holidays, stop and make sure your child is the most important person in the world on his or her big day," Meer said.

Buying multiple presents for one person at the same time of year can tax a monthly budget. But kids might feel bad if it happens, as was the case with Linning so many years ago.

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Those emotions can be worsened if the child has siblings with birthdays at other times of the year, Meer said.

"The child will compare their combined gift with their brother's (or sister's) separate gifts," she said. "My husband has a December birthday. He has told me that on more than one occasion as a child, he was given one gift that was for both occasions. His older sister was born in June and would of course receive separate gifts. Needless to say, he felt a bit shortchanged."

But a birthday isn't all about presents. Ferrari suggested several inexpensive ways to make a child's holiday-time birthday memorable.

Decorating a bedroom or even just the bedroom door can be a fun way to make a child feel special, he said. Letting a child choose a favorite restaurant for dinner is another good option.

You can also surprise your child at school with lunch from a favorite fast-food restaurant, Ferrari said. That'll make their classmates take notice.

"You've got to recognize a child's identity, their specialness," Ferrari said. "Because there's only one of us in the world."

Round Lake resident Cynthia Haran's daughter, Claire, was born Dec. 7 and turns 6 this year. Haran and her husband, Michael, resist the urge to lump in Claire's birthday with Christmas.


It isn't always easy.

"Dec. 7 doesn't sound that close to Christmas. But when you start planning a birthday party, you realize how many people already have Christmas plans by then," said Haran, the chief deputy in the Lake County recorder of deeds' office.

Sometimes the Harans celebrate with an "unbirthday" party at the halfway mark in June.

"We love Lake Geneva and both (our) little ones' unbirthdays are in the summer," Haran said. "So usually (we celebrate with) an overnight there."

If Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year's events affect your ability to plan for your child's birthday, Meer suggested holding a birthday party in early December or later in January.

That could allow more friends to attend the bash, too.

"I knew one child who would be sad because only a handful of people would show up for her party due to the winter holiday break, but everyone would show up for her siblings' parties," Meer said. "It made her feel left out."

If you go that route, don't forget to save a gift for your child to open on the actual birthday, Meer cautioned.

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