How to Make a Birthday Special (Without a Big Party)

Unforgettable Birthday Ideas Your Kids Will Love

I’m always looking for how to make a birthday special, but the idea of throwing a birthday party makes me break out in sweats. Many people throw spectacular birthday parties and love doing them.

I am not one of them.

I believe that being a great parent looks different for all of us. We should play to our strengths and drop what doesn’t make us happier or better parents.

How to make a birthday special

So, let’s give up the guilt! I’m perfectly happy attending beautifully crafted parties, but I know that throwing them just isn’t my thing. For several reasons…

Why No Big Birthday Parties

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Thank you for the beautiful ideas, Pinterest, but I’m not going to spend hours getting 50 origami flower napkins just right.

I’m not that crafty, and I have three small kids.

Three separate parties every year making the right favors and games is a TON of work. And it fills me with panic just thinking about it.


My kids already have a bazillion toys.

Some toys are great, but too many and my children don’t appreciate what they’re getting. (why I wrote a BIG list of non-toy gift ideas for kids!)

Plus, I get overwhelmed by a lot of stuff, so adding a bunch to my house gives me enormous anxiety.

Large Birthday Party Alternatives

Large birthday party Alternatives

Before we get to fun birthday traditions, please know that you don’t have to swear off ALL parties! Check these low-key party options out, then read on for how to make a birthday special without a party at all!


First, host birthday parties for special birthday years only.

We throw a first birthday party, and I know some that do it when children reach five and ten year birthdays so that they are spread out.


We have attended parties where kids just play at the park, gym, or pool. They are super laid back and essentially playdates that include a cake.


Additionally, we love it when kids bring donations instead of gifts.

Not only does this teach a meaningful lesson, but it gives the birthday child the thrill of delivering donations to an organization that needs it.

Pet shelters, women’s shelters, and hospitals are always on the lookout for supplies.


Finally, at our house, we enjoy one big summer party (instead of 3 separate birthday parties) as a way to still get friends, family, and neighbors together once a year.

What Can I do Instead of a Birthday Party?

how to make a birthday special with 11 birthday activity ideas

Now, it’s still extremely important to me that the kids feel special on their birthday. So here are our easy but unforgettable birthday traditions!

11 Stellar Birthday Ideas for Kids


unforgettable birthday ideas for kids

We have lots of reusable banners that we hang around the house as well as balloons to blow up. All of this gets put out the night before, so they see it as soon as they walk down!

Find great cheap decorations HERE >>


Just because there’s no party doesn’t mean there’s no special celebration!

On the night of the birthday, we have grandparents come for a dinner of the child’s choice. Being kids, it’s usually pizza. Then, we celebrate with cake and a few presents!


coupons printable for kids reward system
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I’m a big lover of coupons!

They take up no space in my house and don’t make my kids psycho from sugar. For birthdays, they get a coupon for 30 min extra TV, 1 extra hot lunch at school, and/or to stay up late for 15 minutes.

Check out this free birthday coupon printable for kids!


Every year, I write each child a short letter on their birthday about the special things they loved, have learned, and have accomplished throughout the year.

The letters make them feel amazing, and it’s an extra reminder that they are loved.

Additionally, I try to keep a copy of each letter on the computer so that when they turn 18 I can give them all of the letters as a gift!

Sign up here for a free birthday letter template! Or click on the picture below!

Kids-printable-pack-mock-ups (14)

*For something pre-made, try these free love notes for kids! (And when it’s over, you’ll love the free birthday thank you notes for kids to write)


*Our favorite sentimental tradition!

ruler to make a birthday unforgettable

We made a simple ruler when our oldest was little and measure the kids at birthdays!

It has been SO fun to see how tall they are each year and compare how tall the siblings are at different age points.

This ONE is beautiful and personalized for each child >>


Since we seldom do birthday parties, we like to do a birthday dinner together with a few family friends around the special days.

That way the kids still get to “invite friends” over, but we’re not overwhelmed.


Every birthday, we have a one-on-one date with mom and date at a separate time. Here are some great ideas for your quality birthday time:

  • Buy a book at a book store
  • Buy some “big boy” tools
  • Get ice cream or treat
  • Go out to a fancy dinner or restaurant of the child’s choice
  • Explore the nearby creek or go fishing at a lake
  • Go to the zoo or amusement park
  • Take a picnic somewhere new
  • Go see a movie
  • Fill the bathtub with pillows, books, and snacks and read

*This tradition is close to my heart, but it is harder if you have many kids or lots of activities.

Now, instead of an outing, we spend one-on-one time at home doing whatever the child wants to do on his/her birthday. Read for more one-on-one kids tips!


read for special birthday ideas, check out these awesome birthday books for kids

Our children received The Night You Were Born at birth, and I love reading it to them to remind them of how unique they are.

Happy birthday to you!

Another great birthday book option is Happy Birthday To You by Dr. Seuss.


What child doesn’t want to see themselves as a baby?

Peruse their baby book and special mementos. Then, you can all see how much they’ve grown over the years.

Celebrate Milestone Birthdays

We have a few special traditions to celebrate the kids’ five-year milestone as well! But these could easily be turned into something special for other birthdays.

milestone birthday ideas for kids

10. THE Q & A BOOK

This is the BEST book to promote meaningful conversations between children and parents. It is a fantastic three-year guide for kids. And every day has a different short prompt to discuss. Examples include:

  • What was the last thing you built or made?
  • Which language would you like to learn and why?
  • Which do you like more, being inside or outside? Why?

My son and I have talked about the questions in this book for the last two and a half years just before bed, and now my daughter is in on it as well.

birthday activity ideas

*Or for a free option (and less commitment), get this awesome set of birthday interview questions (+ print the free printable right from the post!)

Related: Great Experience Gift Ideas For Kids


Finally, I am the WORST at printing pictures out. It’s one of the reasons we use Chatbooks (an automatic printing service).

Yet, I give them each a special book of their first five years of life on that milestone birthday. At least when they’re older they will have something to look at that isn’t from a computer!!!

Love the idea of creating unforgettable family memories?

Then, check out my bargain ebook, filled with 260+ unique family tradition ideas for major holidays, birthdays, and everything in between! With this ebook, you’ll gain irreplaceable quality time and make your family stronger.

family traditions ebook

Remember, different traditions work with different people. Try out several to find your fit. But keep it fun and stress-free!

How do you make a birthday special? Do you have unique traditions?

*Not able to celebrate with others due to health concerns? Check out more at How to Make a Birthday Special at Home

And check out these other great family posts:

How to Make A Birthday Special (No Party Needed)


  1. Vicky Herman says:

    Awesome ideas! Can I rewind the clock a little to do some of these things?!

  2. Your kids are still super young! Start now anything you want to do! It would still be exciting!!! 🙂

  3. I buy one # balloon for whatever year old theta re. Then I buy that number of confetti filled balloons. While they are still sleeping I put them in their bed so they wake up to all of their birthday balloons and they get to play with them all morning. Then I take a pic of them in bed with the # balloon for their very first picture at whatever age they turned.

    1. That is such a wonderful idea Ciara! And I’ve never heard of that before! I bet your kids feel so special, and it will be such a cool thing to look at those pictures later on too! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  4. I can really relate with the birthday party thing you know and so I feel like my kids don’t feel as special as I’d like them to and it makes me so guilty. But reading your post has really energised me! I wish I read it like 8years earlier but better late than never. Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Kryz! Don’t feel guilty! Personally, I think the birthday party thing has gotten way out of hand! I hope you have fun trying some of these things! They’re all pretty easy!

  5. Thank you for this! My daughter’s birthday is net week, and we love doing stuff as a family unit, but I want to make sure she feels special. Will definitely be implementing some of these ideas.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks for sharing!

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