“How long ‘til my
‘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 will ask again, “How long
She begins anticipating a holiday as soon as preparations begin. Her
day care or nursery school class might make Valentine cards 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
When there’s a long period of anticipation before a special event,
children get anxious and excited and may go through 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.
Parents also can try to help their 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, she can tear off one link;
the day all the links are gone is the day she’s been waiting for.
These devices help some children stay calm, but generally children
remain very excited. Parents should be patient with the excitement
and expect that their child will continually want the celebration to
begin “now.” They can sympathize if they consider their own feelings
before special parties or vacations.
Your child may get particularly worked up before her birthday. Since
party preparation takes time, you may start planning the celebration
weeks before the date, while your child considers whom 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.” She may worry ahead of
time about having eight or ten friends over at once, and may be
concerned about sharing her toys and letting the guests see her
presents. One child, concerned about her anticipated gifts, said,
“At the party, no one can come and play in my room.” Although there
is no way to keep your child from feeling excited and anxious before
her birthday, if you anticipate her feelings, you will be better
able to reassure her.