“How long ’til my birthday?” “When is three weeks up?” “Is it Halloween yet?” Parents hear such questions whenever special occasions approach.
Children have a hard time waiting, and since their concept of time is different from an adult’s, they ask about holidays over and over again. Parents can tell their excited child that Christmas is four weeks away and almost immediately, she’ll ask again, “How long ’til Christmas?”
Young children begin anticipating a holiday as soon as preparations begin. Her day care or nursery-school class might make valentines weeks in advance, and her friends might discuss Halloween costumes long before October. Christmas preparations sometimes begin before Thanksgiving, giving children a great deal of time to watch holiday commercials, see store decorations going up, and think about presents.
When there’s a long period of anticipation before a special event, children sometimes get anxious and excited, and may go through some behavior changes, becoming sillier, more active, and more likely to whine. Children who are admonished to “be good” in order to get birthday or Christmas gifts may feel pressured and become more aggressive. It’s very hard under any circumstances for a child to be consistently good, and when she’s anxiously anticipating a holiday, behaving well is that much harder. Some parents find that their child’s behavior improves if they ease up on the holiday pressure, perhaps giving a surprise treat (“Just because I love you”) to slow the build up.
You can try to help your child deal with the waiting period by giving her a calendar to mark off or by making a special paper chain. Each day for a week or two, your child can tear off one chain; the day all the chains are gone is the day she’s been waiting for. These devices help some children stay calm, but generally children remain very excited. Be patient with your child’s excitement and expect that your child will continually want the celebration to begin “now.” You can sympathize if you consider your own feelings before special parties or vacations.
Your child may get particularly worked up before her birthday. Since party preparations take time, you may start planning her birthday weeks before the date, while your child considers who to invite and what presents she’d like. She may be very excited about the gifts and party, or she may have mixed feelings about being the center of attention and may decide, as one five-year-old did, “Nobody should sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me at my party.”
Although there’s no way to keep your child from feeling excited and anxious before her birthday, if you anticipate her feelings, you’ll be more patient and better able to focus positively on her excitement.