“Can I whisper something in your ear?” she asked.I leaned in.“I’m having a hard time today.”My eyes encouraged her to go on.“I wish it was my birthday.”“Why?” I asked her.She looked at me like I was crazy for even asking. “The presents,” she said. “I want presents.”
Rebecca is 4 and a half years old. She’ll be turning 5 in the beginning of May. On Katherine’s 8th birthday, Rebecca was difficult pretty much all day. Even though she was self-aware enough to know she was having a hard day, she was impatient and angry, loud and cranky, and impulsive and sad.
She was acting like a child.
It’s really hard for kids to watch other children celebrate, whether it’s birthdays or something so simple as someone else getting dressed first in the morning (yes, this happened this morning). I also know quite a few adults who have a hard time celebrating when other people have success.
It would have been easy for us to get upset with Rebecca and insist that she stop being sad. It would have been easy to send her to her room for hitting and having a tantrum. But what would that have accomplished?
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It would have taught her that her feelings aren’t valid, to stuff them back inside, and act a way that she doesn’t feel in order to please others. Those aren’t traits I want her to have when she’s older. Instead, we were all empathetic and understanding. We didn’t take our focus off of Katherine’s birthday, but instead focused some light on different aspects of it.
What this looks like:
When Rebecca eventually cried because she “wanted presents too,” we showed her empathy.We said things like:
- “I know you’d like some presents.”
- “What do you think Katherine’s favorite gift will be?”
- “What do you like about the gift that we bought for her?”
- “What do you think you’d like for your birthday?”
We did things like:
- allowing Rebecca to be the one to serve everyone dinner
- let her help put the birthday candles on the cake
- held her on our laps as Katherine opened her presents
- talked about the day that Katherine was born and how everyone has a story about their birth day
- looked at birthday pictures from each of Katherine’s birthdays and Rebecca loved seeing the part where she suddenly appeared in our family
We did NOT take the focus off of Katherine’s birthday.
“Do you know what the best part of my day was?” she whispered as I tucked her into bed that night.
“What?” I asked.
“Watching Kate open her presents.”
“Because seeing how much she loved her diary makes me know I would love one too. That’s what I want for my birthday.”
Read more to learn how to implement Compliment Circles. They really help to build a better connection between your kids.
Kristina Grum is a Certified Parent Educator who has over a decade of experience working with children, including being a classroom teacher. She currently teaches parenting classes in her local area and writes about shifting parenthood from barely surviving to thriving.