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Mama Drama: Sibling Birthday Blues

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Dear Mama Drama:

I have two girls who are three years apart in age. My oldest daughter who is nine has a really difficult time handling it when it is her younger sister’s birthday. She is always excited about the party and getting her sister a present, but when the day arrives she loses it. She interrupts, makes rude comments, tries to take over opening presents, and becomes obnoxious trying everything she can to pull the attention away from her sister and onto herself.

Last year we talked about it before the party and she seemed allright, but she could not seem to handle it in the moment. Every year she ends up making her sister cry and being removed from the festivities.

My husband and I are so exasperated that we are contemplating not having her be part of her sister’s upcoming party this year. This seems absurd, but we don’t know what else to do. Her sister wants her to be there, but none of us want all the drama.

Other than this situation the girls get along well and really enjoy each other.  How can we support them so that we can all enjoy the party?

~Mama with the Birthday Blues

(photo credit)

Dear Mama:

Even though her other parties have been difficult because of her sister, your younger daughter is demonstrating compassion and generosity in wanting her sister to be there this year. Because of this I suggest allowing her sister to be there under very clear guidelines, but having a back up plan for her to leave if she is not able to handle it. Leaving should not necessarily be considered a punishment, but more of a recognition that this is too hard for her.

Talk with your older daughter about your expectations for her behavior at the upcoming party. Let her know you and her sister want her to be part of the celebration, but that in order to do so she will need to be respectful and kind. Discuss specifically what this will look like and role play situations that she has struggles with in past years.

It sounds like in previous years her negative attention seeking behavior went on for some time before limits were set. In order for her to participate in this party you will need to be very clear about your expectations, monitor her closely, and be willing to end her participation if needed. At the first signs of  agitation or inappropriate behavior step in to support her. She may need a redirection, restatement of the expectation, or a support in pulling herself together. Practicing this before hand will give her more confidence in responding in the moment.

Older siblings often are so used to being in charge that they have a hard time letting this go. Have the girls brainstorm ways that the older sister can help during the party without taking over. She could help greet the guests and place presents in a designated spot, coordinate a game, or assist in serving the cake. During times when her sister is in the spotlight like present opening, plan for the older sister to be next to you or her father. Having her in close proximity provides the opportunity to support and redirect quickly and discretely.

What do you do to ease the frustrations of siblings when it isn’t their turn to be in the spotlight?

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to, and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

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