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Ditch the expensive birthday parties: 6 ways to make real memories for your kids.

There's one main thing kids want us to spend on them, and money isn't it.

Julie is a 33-year-old mom of two living in San Diego. She found herself stressing out about what to do for her 3-year-old's birthday.

Then it hit her: Did she care about lavish birthday parties when she was young? The answer was a resounding no.

"I can't recall any birthday party I had growing up," Julie told Upworthy. "My fondest memories of my childhood came from the little things my parents did with me."


So Julie scrapped her plans for a large birthday party and put on a small family gathering instead. Her daughter still had a blast.

In parenting, it's easy to forget — it's the small things that matter. So how can we create those "small moments" that our kids will treasure?

We talked to parents all over the country and asked them what they do to build these small happy moments with their kids, without the stress. Here are six simple, but cool ways that real parents have found to create fun, lasting memories with their kids:

1. Turn car time into karaoke time!

Even a routine car ride can build great memories. Just ask Alonzo from Massachusetts who looks forward to that time with his 13-year-old daughter.


Alonzo's daughter caught him by surprise with a quick selfie before their daily drive started. Photo from Alozno, used with permission.

"When I pick her up from school, I make a point to listen to her music as we drive around and I even get into it with some singing of my own," he said. "But most importantly it's a time for us to talk openly like daddy-daughter buddies. We both truly enjoy that time together."

2. Take a picture of your child once a week. Then make a 52-photo slideshow (it will blow your kids' minds.)

A dad named Brian shared this, and it's a simple (but brilliant) activity to do for anyone who is expecting to have a baby soon. Just be sure to have your camera ready. Here's how to start:

  1. Pick a day of the week
  2. On that same day, take a picture of your child every week for a year
  3. Label the pictures, "Week 1, Week 2, etc."
  4. Put them all in one folder on your phone or computer

"By the time the child reaches his or her first birthday, there will be 52 photos that you can play on a slideshow for friends and family," Brian said. "Watching the transformations unfold week-to-week during the first year of life in a slideshow format is truly breathtaking."

Here's an adorable example of the subtle transformations our babies can make. GIF via stutterfly29/YouTube.

Of course, parents will take countless photos of our kids throughout the course of their lives, but Brian believes that having photos designated for this particular project is totally worth it.

3. Celebrate even bad weather, with one-on-one time.

Erin, a mom of four boys in Connecticut, believes in spending quality alone time with each of her kids to help create memories. Even if it means getting dirty in the process.

Erin gives her son the green light to get dirty on rainy days, and he loves it. Photo from Erin, used with permission.

"Whenever it rains, I take my 20-month-old outside, strap on rain boots, and stomp in the mud puddles," she said. "That's our way to spend time together and it makes him so happy. Rainy days can create the best memories."

4. Plan a "Daddy Camp-In."

Camping is a lot of fun, but what about camping indoors? Amy, in Georgia, explained how her husband Sam treats their two daughters to a fun adventure they call "Camp-In."

Amy snapped a photo of the end of the daddy-daughter camp-in. Photo from Amy, used with permission.

"Sam will prepare dinner, organize an indoor hike around the house where the kids will see strategically-placed stuffed animals masquerading as wild animals, tell funny stories, and sleep in one of the kids' rooms," Amy said.

"Our daughters love it and they talk about it for days before and after each one."

5. Make a family time capsule for the year.

Seven years ago, Ed in California started a tradition where each family member keeps mementos of special events throughout the year. It could be anything from a photo to a movie ticket stub.

At the end of each year, the family goes through all of it together and it becomes a fun tradition to relive those moments often forgotten about during the hustle and bustle of daily life.

But then they do something else.

Ed's daughter is preparing to bury her family's latest time capsule. Photo from Ed, used with permission.

"We place all of the year's memories into a time capsule and bury it with the agreement that we won't dig it up for 10 years," Ed said. "Since we started this seven years ago, we are due to dig up our first one three years from now. My daughter says we can never move because of the capsules!"

It's a great idea for turning memories into traditions.

6. Start the ritual of "Magical Mornings."

Aimee is the founder of FamilLeague and lives the life of a busy entrepreneur. Even though she's always on the go, she always takes time to curl up in bed with her 5-year-old daughter Athena before each day begins.

"We call it 'Magical Mornings' where we lay in bed and talk about what we're happy and grateful for," Aimee said. "It allows us to be clear in thought and in a good mood before the chaos of the day begins."

The life of an entrepreneur doesn't stop Aimee from enjoying some quiet time with her daughter Athena. Photo from Aimee, used with permission.

The best news? We don't have to break the bank to create amazing memories with our kids. We don't need extravagant parties or expensive gifts.

As a matter of fact, many of the best things we do with our kids don't cost a dime. Because in reality, the main thing our kids want us to spend on them is our time. And that's the way it should be.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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