Celebrating Your Kids' Milestones


Greg Smalley offers several great ideas to help you and your spouse celebrate your children's milestones.

Dear Greg,

We have a couple of preschoolers, but I’m already thinking about how our family can recognize and celebrate the many milestones ahead in each of our children’s lives.  Whether it is their birthdays, first day of kindergarten, or their launch into the teen years, what can my husband and I do to make these times meaningful?


That’s a great question to ask at this point in the parenting process.  Years ago, milestones were actual stones placed along a road to show a person how far he had come in his travels and how far he had yet to go. Today, a milestone is a metaphor for a significant stage or event in a person’s life. By celebrating these noteworthy moments, we not only affirm the value of that individual, but also the meaning and importance of their own life journey.

Many milestones we celebrate early in a child’s life are developmental incidents, such as a baby’s first steps, or other events, like a child’s first day of school. These occurrences may not be things you’d throw a party over, but they’re important because each one marks a step toward independence and becoming the person your child was created to be. One way to make the most of these milestones is to journal about them. Take a few minutes to write down your thoughts and feelings, and maybe even write a note to your child about the occasion for her to read in the future. A personal message like this will likely be treasured by your child in the years to come. And of course, take lots of pictures and videos if you can!

As the years go by, you’ll have other social, educational and personal milestones to celebrate—maybe a first school dance, or getting that coveted learner’s permit (which you may approach with more trepidation than celebration). Some of these events you’ll probably observe with great fanfare, with friends and family—think about a girl’s sweet sixteen birthday party or high school graduation. On these occasions, by making the celebration especially memorable, you’ll be taking the opportunity to reinforce how loved and supported they are.  Those are the kinds of days your kids will long remember because of the affirmation they received.

Beyond being occasions to celebrate, milestones also can create moments where you can talk about powerful life lessons. Getting a learner’s permit, for instance, is a perfect opportunity to discuss the character and maturity needed when someone takes on the responsibility that comes with a set of car keys.  In other words, many of these milestones will become an occasion not only to celebrate, but to coach character.

In fact, don’t forget to emphasize milestones in your children’s moral and spiritual development. Many religious traditions have rituals that mark new life stages. In Judaism, a boy becomes a bar mitzvah (literally “son of the law”) when he turns 13. This signifies and celebrates the young man’s ability to fully participate in his faith community. If your faith tradition doesn’t have a similar coming-of-age rite, you can still arrange an experience for your child, formal or informal, that honors her personal growth toward adulthood and communicates the values of your faith.

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