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Mama Drama: December Birthday Blues

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Dear Mama Drama:

My three-year-old daughter has a December birthday and we are inundated with toys and “stuff” from our very generous family. We appreciate their gifts, but are all a bit overwhelmed by the amount of new toys. My daughter tends to leave them strewn about the house bouncing from one activity to the next, then struggles to clean them up usually ending in a meltdown.

We need ideas to help find some balance with it all.

(photo credit)

~Appreciative, But Overwhelmed Mama

Dear Appreciative, But Overwhelmed:

December birthdays can be challenging to manage, both in making it special as well as handling the amount of gifts all at one time. You can add some structure to support your daughter in handling her bounty of new toys.

First, work on the clean up process. Begin teaching her, with support and redirection, to put away the item she is playing with before getting out another one. This can be a bit frustrating at first, but with practice (and a lot of reteaching) in the long run will it make clean up at the end of the day a much easier process.

Organizing toys so they are easy to put away is another step that helps with clutter and clean up. Plastic bins with lids are great because they are easy to stack for clean up and easy to store when it isn’t their turn.

Limit the toys that are available for play at any one time. Talk with your daughter about which toys she is most interested in playing with right now.  Set a limit of four or five options and then put the rest of the toys away. Depending on her level of interest in them, you can rotate toys in and out weekly or monthly. When you pull out toys she hasn’t seen in awhile, it’s like getting a new present again.

In planning ahead for next year, you may want to suggest gift cards instead of toys from some of your generous family members. That way when spring and summer role around she can choose toys for the new season that she wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Also, ever the literacy advocate, ask for books or bookstore gift cards, too!

How do you other Mamas of December babies handle the holiday and birthday frenzy?

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to, and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential. Read more of Lisa’s parenting perspective at her Laughing Yoga Mama blog.

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  • comment avatar Jennifer December 30, 2011

    My 16 year old has a Dec 23rd birthday, for about the last 10 years we have been buying her an end of school present and then a couple of years ago we started getting her birthday gift about a month before her birthday so she wouldn’t be so overwhelmed in December. She hasn’t really had parties other than family, since it was so hard to schedule them with the school holidays and other christmas parties going on. So we just make sure that her birthday is her special day and focus more on that than the giving of gifts on her actual birthday.

  • comment avatar Heather Ruch December 30, 2011

    Those are great ideas Lisa! While we don’t have December birthdays in our house, we have experienced the Christmas overload meltdown.

    Several years ago, we went a little crazy with the gifts and so did the rest of the family. The result was an impressive looking tree with bright, shiney wrapped presents spilling around it but a few hours into opening everything the kids were overwhelmed and couldn’t decide what to play with.

    We cleaned up and used the toy rotation method to help ease the confusion and it worked well.

    Having money to buy lots of gifts that year, we went into the holiday thinking it would be great fun and quickly re-learned that less is more.

    After the holiday crush, I talked to family members and requested a present scale down. Fast forward, the kids get fewer presents – even today – yet the level of satisfaction with and use of the gifts has dramatically increased.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson December 30, 2011

    Great ideas, Lisa! My husband and dad are December birthdays so we don’t have a toy problem but it’s tough not to lump their birthdays in with Christmas.

  • comment avatar Ana December 31, 2011

    My daughter’s birthday is December 14th. We follow the one in one out rule for her toys. For every new toy she gets, she has to donate a toy to kids who will love it more. Works great. She enjoys picking which toys go to kids and now that her grandparents understand that she donates things they tend to give her fewer toys for fear that the new one will just be donated (as often times it is). She also gets more books that way which is preferable to everyone involved.

  • comment avatar Lisa - Laughing Yoga Mama January 1, 2012

    Love how you’ve all come up with creative ideas to handle the double December deluge as well as the overload that Christmas alone can bring.

    Thanks for the reminder that these little ones grow up and still stump us at times. (I’ve got two January b-days, hubby & oldest, which can also be challenging.)

    Focusing on the specialness of their day rather than the presents as well as remembering that less is more are great lessons from you mamas.

    I also love the one in one out idea and how it has shaped the behavior of the gift givers, too. 🙂

    Thanks for your comments!

  • comment avatar katrina January 6, 2012

    In our area, many of the families with December birthdays celebrate with a half birthday party in the summer. They have a family celebration on their birthday. This way, the birthday is still special but not overwhelming and the child gets a summer party.

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