Make it the most special birthday yet. 

School shutdowns and social distancing measures created to slow the spread of COVID-19 don't just mean kids are stuck home without playdates for the foreseeable future. Some kids also have to forego special events they look forward to all year, like their birthdays

little girl looking at her birthday cake
Credit: Jessica Peterson / Getty Images

Though social distancing is critical for our own health and the health of those in our communities, humans are social beings who crave connections, especially during trying times, says Jennifer Porter, a Seattle-based party planner. But our new normal calls for some creative party planning. "When your little one's birthday party is cancelled, it's a great opportunity to create a whole new model for fun!"

But first, honor the disappointment.

As much as you want to focus on making the day as special as possible, first take a moment to share the disappointment as a family, says Porter. Your child will inevitably be bummed, and it's important to validate those feelings. The key is not to dwell in them. "My son is turning nine, so we had a very open conversation about the need to keep everyone safe and healthy," says Amanda Bruce-Lockhart, a mom of four from New Jersey. "Obviously, I don't want to scare him or make him feel anxious, so it was more just about everyone doing their part to help."

Your kids' resilience may surprise you. "He's been really good about it," says Lockhart. "The promise of a big party once quarantine is over is helping to manage the disappointment."

Then, focus on making this birthday one-of-a-kind.

The bottom line: Your child doesn't have to feel alone on his or her special day, even if you've all been cooped up in the house for weeks on end. Thankfully, family units are fully intact and there are plenty of digital channels to connect with friends, neighbors, and far-flung relatives, even as we're asked to stay away from friends and extended family. "Be a trailblazer and have fun in the process," says Porter. "Aim to make each little moment in the day a big one to create unique memories for the birthday girl or boy."

Start the day on the right foot.

Decorate the entire house with whatever you might have in your craft closet. "Pull scrap fabric, party streamers if you have them, and construction paper to make garlands for the dining area and the birthday child's bedroom," says Porter. Then, when your child wakes up, greet them with a grand breakfast that includes candles and the birthday song, says Porter. 

Get the neighborhood in on it.

Decorate your own front lawn and ask neighbors to do so as well. Then, take a walk through your neighborhood, admiring all of the special birthday messages. Or, take it a step further and decorate your car ("Honk to wish Katie a Happy Birthday!"), blast music, and drive around town to "visit" each of your child's friend's houses. Have each family step outside, wave, hold signs, and cheer for the birthday boy or girl. 

Set up a scavenger hunt.

Plan a scavenger hunt through your home and any outdoor spaces that are safe for children—it makes a great game for any size gathering, tiny or large, says Porter. Sketch a special map that asks the birthday kiddo to find a clue that may or may not include a wrapped birthday gift. Then, move on to the next clue, and so on. Some things to include: photos of friends and family, a birthday cake recipe, candy and other special treats, and—of course—a present. 

Plan a party for your household.

Give the birthday some structure and plan for an "event," says Porter. This might be movie night, game time, building a LEGO set—anything that is a bit unique for the family and creates special time to focus on delighting the birthday child.

And don't forget: In spite of the challenges that we're facing right now—working from home, for example—try to be fully present when you plan as a family for the big event. If Movie Night sounds fun, you can make admission tickets, decorate the "theater," dress up in movie themed clothing, pop popcorn and top it with sprinkles, choose a few options to view, and let the birthday child select the feature film, says Porter.

Plan a virtual birthday party for friends and extended family.

Use a video chatting service like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or Zoom to host a call with all of your child's friends or your extended family. Antigoni Gouras Manzi, a mom of two living in New York, has a daughter celebrating her sixth birthday during social distancing. Though they had to cancel their daughter's in-person party, they've asked all of the guests to join them online with their dessert of choice to sing happy birthday to their daughter.

You can also arrange some sort of activity, like Mad Libs, says Porter. Make your own Mad Libs or find a template online. Then, ask each guest to share a word until you're done and read aloud for some great laughs.

End the day with a special birthday message

Ask beloved friends and family members to record a special birthday wish. Services like Tribute do the heavy-lifting for you. Simply use the platform to invite friends and family to join and upload their message. Then, drag and drop the videos to turn it into a quick montage to watch before bed.


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