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Written by:  Jennifer Gregory
Date: October 1, 2010

Most parents celebrate their children's birthdays by planning a party or giving a special gift. Though it is meaningful to let your kids know how important they are throughout the year, a birthday is the perfect time to make an extra effort to show the child you care.

"Children want to feel special every day. A child also wants to feel particularly special on her birthday since it is the one day a year dedicated to celebrating her life," says Maureen Healy, a child-development expert and parenting author of "365 Perfect Things to Say to Your Kids."

Here are some easy ways to create new traditions that will help make a child's birthday special this year, and for years to come.

1. Decorate the bedroom.
After your child goes to sleep the night before her birthday, sneak into her room and decorate it. As soon as she wakes up the next morning, she will know her family was thinking of her special day. A few simple decorations will go a long way toward getting the birthday started on a happy note. Make a special sign wishing your child a happy birthday and have everyone in the family write a note on it. Blow up some balloons in her favorite color and put them around the room. You can also tape crepe paper from the doorway to create a magic curtain door.

2. Bake a cake.
This year, make a birthday cake instead of buying one from the store. Your child will appreciate even a simple sheet cake made from a mix. You can also start the tradition of making a specific type of cake or making the birthday cake together. Some families purchase the cake for the friends' party, but make a cake to eat with the family on the actual birthday. Or consider cupcakes for the party.

Dr. Glen Earl, a child psychologist, fondly remembers his mother making his birthday cake every year from a special recipe. "As an adult, I still feel that it is not my birthday unless someone makes me this special cake that I only eat on my birthday," Earl says.

3. Eat a special meal.
Many families celebrate their child's birthday by having a special meal in her honor. It doesn't even have to be dinner. You can make a special breakfast and put candles on her pancakes or omelet.
When Kristan Wohlschlegel of Raleigh was growing up, her parents always let the birthday child pick the dinner menu. "It could even be a crazy combination of foods, such as chicken-noodle soup with mashed potatoes on the side," says Wohlschlegel. Other families take the birthday child out for dinner at a restaurant of his or her choice.

4. Preserve the memory.
Another way to let your child feel special on her birthday is to do something every year that marks the passage of time. You can make a video interview each year on the child's birthday and have him talk about things that are important to him at that time. "Videotaping creates a chronology of a child's life that makes them feel special and unique when they watch it," Earl says.

Another option is to take a picture of your child in the same spot each year to see how he grows and changes through the years. You could also make a handprint in cement to create a stepping stone for your garden.

5. Write a personal letter.
Since birthdays are sentimental times for parents, take this opportunity to write down your feelings about your child. Some parents write their children a special letter each year recording what they did that year. Save these to give your kids when they are old enough to appreciate them, such as at a high-school or college graduation.

"Use your words powerfully as a parent," Healy says. She suggests that parents write their child a special birthday card that the child can look at throughout the year. Be sure to include specifics things that you like about your child and mention things that you have enjoyed doing together throughout the year.

6. Have a birthday plate.
A fun birthday ritual is to have a special plate that each person in the family uses for meals on his or her birthday. If you want to be creative, you can buy a plain plate and decorate it with ceramic paint. You can also buy a plate that is a different color from your regular dishes and has a fun design.
The key is to "focus on how you make your child feel," Healy says. "They will remember this feeling and forget the presents you gave them."

Be sure to continue the traditions you start through the years, and one day you may watch your children continue the same birthday traditions with your grandkids.

Jennifer Gregory is the mom of two kids and three dogs and lives in Youngsville. Her family has a special birthday hat that birthday honorees wear during meals on their special day.


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