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Celebrating Birthdays

Closeup of happy faces
Celebrating a birthday can help a child feel
special and loved

For most children, birthdays are happy occasions shared with family and friends. But for children in foster care, birthdays can be a painful reminder of the family they’re no longer with.

Foster children may experience their birthday as just another loss. They may feel angry and resentful that they can’t be with their families like other children. They may “act out,” or become overwhelmed with grief and sadness. And some foster children may be confused about birthday celebrations because they’ve never had one before.

But birthdays can be a special and positive experience for your foster child, as long as you acknowledge the child’s feeling and reassure him that those feelings are normal. And birthdays can also be an opportunity to help a child feel special and loved.

What You Can Do to Help

Find out how the child’s birth family celebrated birthdays and include the best ideas in your celebration. If the child recalls negative memories — or no birthday celebrations at all — create new, better memories.

  • Base the celebration around something your foster child likes. Pick a theme for the cake, decorations, and hats (like Spiderman, Dora the Explorer, etc.).
  • Make a crown the child can wear to celebrate his special day.
  • Take photographs of the child as he blows out the candles and opens his gifts.
  • Let the child sit at the head of the table for the day.
  • Tell the child he can pick whatever he wants for dinner. Let the child plan the special birthday dinner with you well in advance of the big day.
  • Let your foster child choose a special activity for the day — like going to the zoo, the park, or a favorite restaurant.
  • Make the child’s birthday a “no chores” day.
  • Give the child a gift that represents his birth heritage, like something that symbolizes the country, state, or city he was born in.
  • Help your foster child write or draw something in a journal about his birth family and past birthday celebrations.
  • If appropriate, try to arrange for the child to talk by telephone with his birth parents and siblings on his birthday.
  • Make sure you celebrate your foster child’s birthday in the same way you’d celebrate your own child’s birthday. Don’t reserve more expensive gifts or parties for your biological children.

FaCES noteRecognize that you can’t make up for everything your foster child isn’t experiencing because he isn’t with his birth family. Don’t put pressure on yourself to give the child his “best birthday ever.” Even with the best effort, most foster children will experience some sadness during birthdays. It’s not because you’re doing anything wrong. It’s just because they miss their family.