It’s big brother Sebastian’s birthday, and three-year-old Callista has been bouncing with excitement as family and friends arrive to celebrate. Then the presents are handed out and as Sebastian unwraps each gift, little sister’s face gets sadder and sadder. Finally she says, “Isn’t there anything for me?” and bursts into tears.
Calgary parent educator Tanya Bartram says Callista’s tears are to be expected. “Preschoolers are naturally egocentric,” she explains, “so they tend to feel put out when someone else is getting all the attention.”
While some jealousy is natural, Bartram says parents shouldn’t excuse or ignore less-than-desirable behaviour at a birthday party. She suggests acknowledging the child’s feelings, and then redirecting her to a more positive activity, such as helping get ready for the next game or marking the date for her own birthday party on the calendar.
“Preschoolers don’t have a good grasp of time, and will have some trouble understanding the idea that their own birthdays will come at a later date,” says Bartram. “You can talk about it in terms of taking turns, which most preschoolers are learning about, and say, ‘This day is your brother’s turn, but on this day’ —marking it on the calendar — ‘it will be your turn.’”
Lisa Cornish, mother of two, takes it a step further. “I talk about the ‘left- out’ child’s birthday in some detail, asking ‘What would you like to do for your party? How do you want your cake decorated?’ That helps the child look forward to his special day.”
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