For young children, a sibling’s birthday can be a challenging time. While they may welcome the excitement of extra treats and parties, they are also very likely to feel quite envious of the increased attention bestowed on the birthday child.
Children under 5 will often show this jealousy in quite open and obvious ways, such as having tantrums, ripping open or breaking sibling’s presents. Slightly older children are more likely to feel torn between understanding that such behaviour is unreasonable and yet still feeling quite deeply resentful of their brother or sister. Even worse, it starts to become clear that despite their feelings, they are actually expected to enjoy the day and be happy for their sibling.
If these envious feelings are not acknowledged and accepted by parents, children will begin to suppress such feelings with the understanding that these feelings are unacceptable. The problem with this is that the feeling itself doesn’t go away just because it is suppressed. Difficult feelings need to be acknowledged for what they are and then “managed”.
For the younger child who is ripping open his brother’s presents, showing that you understand that it is difficult when his brother gets so many new toys and so much extra attention and explaining that his turn will come, can be helpful. Counting days until their birthday or another exciting event, involving them in the preparations, allowing them to choose a small present for their sibling themselves, or even routinely buying one small token gift for the non-birthday child can all help to make the day more bearable.
For slightly older children, parents may have to look more closely for signs of envy, such as moodiness, less compliance with everyday routines, or any other tried and tested method of diverting attention. Once the reason behind these behaviours has been acknowledged with the child, and accepted as an understandable feeling by the parent, they can then be managed as above.
For older siblings, be particularly wary of a brother’s or sister’s 1st Birthday. This is after all the first time they have had to deal with this and it will reignite those early feelings of new-baby-jealousy they have only just started learning to manage.