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Balancing Birthday Fun with Consumer Craze

Today apple seeds is offering a book give-away (see www.appleseedsplay.com, or facebook or twitter) for the newly released, "WHOSE BIRTHDAY IS IT?"!
Guest blogger, and author Erica Jacobs Green, talks about how to make birthday celebrations awesome without your kids getting too obsessed with a consumer’s craze (or the “I Want More” syndrome):

I am nuts about birthdays. I’m one of those people who loves making a big deal about a birthday. My enthusiasm for celebrating certainly spreads to my children. But as much as I love to make a birthday a BIG DEAL, I know that for kids it can become too much. And the last thing I want is for this special day to turn into a whole lot of I want, I want, I want.
My mom, Cathe Jacobs, is a retired elementary school teacher and principal, and a parenting expert. She taught me tons about how to balance the joy of celebrations with reasonable parenting. We sat down to talk about celebrating birthdays with preschool and young elementary school kids. Here’s some of her advice:

How do you make birthdays extra special?
--Create a day that celebrates your child. This does not mean that Mom and Dad don't go to work or don't pay attention to other siblings, but do make an effort to move your late afternoon meetings so you get home early and be in the frame of mind to focus on the birthday kid from when he or she first awakens to the good night kiss.

--With a special birthday breakfast. Set a fancy table the night before and light candles the next morning. Streamers or balloons make it a distinct, just-for-my-family celebration. We place the gifts right on the table, too. Ask the day before the birthday what your child would like to eat for breakfast and serve that. We started birthday breakfasts because Daddy had to go to work early and sometimes that meant we ate before 6AM. Then at dinner, again serve your child's requested favorites and finish with the birthday cake. Outrageous cakes are a lot of fun, but what is important here is building family traditions that fit into your family's schedule.

--Find ways to celebrate with aunts, uncles, grandparents or the child's friends, as well. Often this can only occur on another day or the weekend. In planning this, again ask the birthday kid what he or she thinks is a party. Generally it will be less than you imagined, but in talking about the birthday you can clearly surmise what is too expensive, inappropriate, unsafe or counter to your family's values (if your child asks for a gun, for example) and see it as an opportunity to explain why he or she won't be receiving that gift.

How do you manage expectations before a birthday?
-- Many times throughout the year your child will ask for something and telling them they can put it on their birthday list helps curb their consumer appetite. So when the birthday does arrive, one or two of those special requests can be granted. Don't lose the element of surprise though, which might include a special gift that the child never requested. Again, be sure to take the opportunity before the birthday to talk about your values and set reasonable expectations.

--Set your birthday budget ahead of time and make sure you become comfortable with what you can reasonably afford. Preschoolers read their parents on everything and they know if a parent is feeling uncomfortable, anxious, or upset. If you go into planning a birthday party knowing that you are totally secure with the gifts given and the amount you will spend on the party, the child will sense that. But if you wish you could give more or wish you had more money to spend, the child will pick up on that too.

What do you do when kids want everything and ask for the moon?

--Sit down and talk to your child about their birthday Wish List and let him or her know your expectations. It is perfectly reasonable for parents to give their child only two or three presents. Of course, friends, grandparents and others will add to this number so often there are dozens of gifts.

--The thing to remember is that young children are not aware of the value of things. They can be just as excited about something shiny, fun, or sparkly as they are about something that is pricey or outrageously expensive.

--Keep in mind that kids don’t really give a hoot about money. They are as happy to ride a real pony as they are to play pin the tail on the donkey with a group of friends. If your attitude as a parent is that you are centered and thrilled about the event, occasion, and gifts, and you make it celebratory and fun, this will become contagious.

--And too there is humor. After the first serious talk about why he or she won't be getting everything, you can make light of the request. "Are you still asking for a pony, little one?! You know your Dad is still asking for one too!"

Author's Bio:
Erica Jacobs Green has worked in book publishing for nearly twenty years as a children's book editor at Chronicle Books and the Director of Publishing at Discovery Channel, among other roles. Her award-winning writing has appeared in anthologies, newspapers, and online. Currently a freelance writer and editor, Erica is also the co-founder of Ever After Studio and working on a novel. Originally from California, Erica lives in Reykjavik, Iceland with her husband and two small children in a house full of traveler's artifacts.

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