Birthdays are a highlight of every child’s life, an exciting and eagerly anticipated event year after year and a cherished memory ever after. In military families, birthdays may be a reminder of current challenges. A parent may be deployed and unable to join the celebration in person. Or, the family may have just moved to a new location and not know many people yet. But with a little advance organizing of birthday celebration plans, these special days can be full of joy, no matter the circumstances.


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  • Old and New Birthday Traditions

    Birthdays present a special challenge in military families.

    Old and New Birthday Traditions

    Birthdays present a special challenge in military families. For starters, parent and child may be separated—and that’s particularly hard on such a big day— or the family might have moved recently. Coming up with a fun and meaningful way to celebrate is important. In military families, where so many things often change, traditions can be especially comforting. They strengthen family bonds by creating a shared history and heritage. Birthdays are the perfect time to honor old traditions and create new ones.  Here are some tradition ideas for birthday celebrations—but the most fun is coming up with your own:

    • Anticipation is as much fun as celebration! Build up the excitement with a birthday countdown the week before the special day. To create anticipation, a parent or guardian might label a small envelope or box with a number (1 through 7), and give one to the birthday child each morning before the child’s birthday. Place inside each envelop or box a little something special, such as a birthday cake coupon; a birthday book borrowed from the library; and so on.
    • Honor the passing of the year. When the birthday child goes to bed the night before her big day, say, “Good night, three-year-old.” Wake her up with, “Good morning, four-year-old.” Overnight you might quietly decorate the child’s room by taping crepe-paper ribbons and balloons on the bedroom door, for example, or prepare a special birthday breakfast.
    • At the time of his birth (say, noon), sit him down and tell him the story of the day he was born. Was it a sunny or snowy day? What did he look like at the very beginning? Who were his first visitors? If you have a baby book, this is the time to get it out.
    • Talk about family birthday traditions. Are there special birthday-cake flavors or birthday-meal foods that are prepared year after year? Is there a favorite family birthday song or dance? If not, now’s a good time to choose one!
    • A birthday can be a “happy favorites day” too. Each year, ask the birthday child to tell you her favorite food, favorite color, favorite book, favorite hobby, and so on. Record it in a little notebook so she can see the way favorites might change year to year.
    Next: Celebrating When a Parent’s Away
  • Celebrating When a Parent’s Away

    It’s common in military families for a parent to be away from home when a birthday comes around.

    Celebrating When a Parent’s Away

    It’s possible in military families for a parent or parents to be away from home when a birthday comes around. Celebrating special occasions during deployment can be hard for both the child and the parent. However, with a little advanced organizing, parents can make sure that they are still a part of the celebration and a part of surrounding the birthday child with love:


    • If there’s time before you go, record a birthday message or write a letter to be opened on the child’s birthday. You may want to share a favorite memory, express your pride at something your child has learned this year, or talk about your wishes for the new birthday year.
    • Do a “Flat Mommy” or “Flat Daddy” project together. Have the parent who will be away on the big day lie down on a big piece of cardboard. Kids can trace around the parent’s body to make Flat Mommy/Daddy. Help the child draw in features, such as clothing, hair, and so on. If you want, use a photo for the face. The Flat Mommy/Daddy can join in all family celebrations. (Alternatively, take a full-body photo and have it made into a large cardboard-backed image at a camera store—but this is a more expensive option.)
    • Choose a special spot inside your home. Tell your child that before going to sleep on the big day he should go to that place, close his eyes, and remember that you are sending a big birthday hug and kiss.

    On the Day

    • Arrange a time, if possible, for a video chat with your child. You may not want to tell the child about this in advance, as things can come up at the last minute for the deployed parent. If a video chat happens, it will be a lovely surprise. Military children move often and must sometimes leave friends behind, so you can set up the same kind of video chat with old friends of the birthday child.
    • Prepare a special treat for the birthday child and ask others to prepare a treat for themselves, such as snack, lunch, dinner, or dessert, so that everyone can eat “together” as you video chat.
    • Let everyone count the candles together and blow them out, virtually.
    • Find a game that everyone can do together online, such as decorating cupcakes, creating a picture, word games, or charades. Or make a birthday story: Each online “guest” can take a turn (with a grown-up’s help, if needed) adding a few sentences. When it’s finished, everyone gets a copy.
    Next: Simple Celebrations
  • Simple Celebrations

    You don’t need a flashy party to make lasting memories!

    Simple Celebrations

    Children don’t need a flashy party to make lasting memories! If you’ve recently moved, or are getting used to big changes, sometimes an intimate family party is best. Add a special friend or two for the birthday child, if desired.

    Here are some easy, no-fuss, all-fun ideas for celebrating simply:

    • Watch a favorite movie at home, with movie snacks.
    • Host a picnic in the park. Park scavenger hunts are always fun.
    • Play traditional games. There’s a reason these games have been around for so long. They are fun to play! Play “Duck, Duck, Goose,” “Simon Says,” “Musical Chairs” (or pillows), “Hot Potato,” or “Freeze Dance” (known sometimes as “Statues”). You can change up the games to fit the birthday child’s interests. For example, “Duck, Duck, Goose” might turn into “Pizza, Pizza, Cupcake,” “Simon Says” can be “Cookie Monster Says,” and the “Hot Potato” can be a favorite stuffed toy.
    • Have the guests decorate their own goody bags with crayons, stickers, and glitter. Or cover the party table with a plain paper tablecloth or butcher paper and let everyone draw on it with markers, colored pencils, and crayons.
    • Let everyone decorate their own food. Kids can each get their own ball of (store-bought) pizza dough that they can customize with a choice of toppings. Or they can decorate their own cupcakes or ice cream sundaes.
    • Costumes and props are always fun. Collect hats, boas, sunglasses, costume jewelry, bowties, fake mustaches, and anything else that will appeal to kids’ imagination. Put on some music and watch the magic happen.
    • Party favors can include printables, such as coloring pages and easy activities—like the ones included in Sesame Street for Military Families.
    • Take lots of photos. They make it easy to remember the special day and share it with those who can’t be there.
    Next: New-to-Town Birthday Celebration
  • New-to-Town Birthday Celebration

    Military families move a lot! Your child may be celebrating a birthday after one of these moves.

    New-to-Town Birthday Celebration

    Military families move a lot! Your child may be celebrating a birthday after one of these moves—and that isn’t always easy. Here are some unique birthday celebration ideas for a special welcome-to-town birthday scavenger hunt to help make your new town feel like home:

    • Start in the birthday bedroom. Your child has grown this year. Stand him against the bedroom door and make a mark to measure future birthdays against. Now put a birthday hat or birthday crown on the lucky birthday child.
    • Visit the local library. Sign up for a library card if you haven’t already. Get the librarian’s help in finding a book about birthdays to check out.
    • Find the firehouse. Usually firefighters are very receptive to visits from neighborhood kids. Introduce the birthday child—maybe she’ll be invited to try on a fire hat!
    • Go to the market. Make a game of finding items needed for his birthday dinner.
    • Locate the town bakery. The birthday child can choose a cake or cupcake to bring home.
    • Ask your child’s new teacher or day care center to recognize the birthday. It will make her feel like she belongs. And be sure to leave time for phone calls, Skype, or Facetime for folks who live farther away: grandparents, cousins, old friends. Out of town doesn’t have to mean out of touch!


    Next: Additional Resources
  • Additional Resources

    Helpful links related to Birthdays