Recently a friend called me sounding very concerned. She’s a grandma of two young granddaughters – one four -years -old and one who just turned two. My friend had just returned from a visit with the grandchildren – there to celebrate the two-year-old’s birthday.
This grandma shared her dismay over her four-year-old granddaughter’s “selfish” behavior while she was there. Apparently her older granddaughter found it very difficult to share the stage with her now very charming little sister on her special day. She grabbed at the presents, tore off the bows and threw them at the guests. When reprimanded by her mom, she stuck out her tongue, shouted “You’re not the boss of me”, ran to her room and wouldn’t come out to the party.
This grandma was so upset that her granddaughter would act like that.
I assured her that this behavior, although not, perhaps, the shiniest moment to be observed in one’s child, is not at all unexpected. Birthdays are a very special day and her two-year-old sister was recognizing, perhaps for the first time, the significance of this personal celebration of herself . Much hoopla was going on and in the busy prep for the party, the presents, the attention to the two-year-old, the guests, and all the details, thinking of the four-year-old’s feelings got overlooked.
I asked my friend how involved the older granddaughter had been in helping to prepare for the party, to be a part of the planning, to help serve, decorate, to show the gifts around after her sister opened them. The answer was “not very much“. She was told repeatedly that this was her sister’s special day. She had already had her birthday.
But as we talked, this grandma realized that her four-year-old granddaughter had been feeling left out. Including her in the excitement and the planning to make this celebration for her little sister special would have provided her the perfect opportunity to make a purposeful, positive contribution. This would have helped her feel significant in her own right and an important part of the family.
As we talked, I remembered one of my favorite books – an oldie but goodie – one of the Frances books by Russell Hoban – A Birthday For Frances. If you’re not familiar with the Frances books, they are great read-aloud books. They are a bit wordier than many of today’s picture books but very special. They make their point without being preachy and provide situations ripe for conversation with your child.
Frances, a badger, is a precocious and highly spirited five-year-old. She is opinionated and very imaginative. In this particular book, she struggles with celebrating her younger sister’s birthday. The other books in the series are helpful too for preschoolers and up. Some titles are Baby Sister For Frances, Bargain For Frances, Best Friends for Frances, Bread and Jam for Frances. Some of the books have been recently edited into Easy Readers but I would recommend the original stories to read aloud. They are also available on CD.
So back to my friend …she plans another visit to her grandchildren next month and intends to bring a few Frances books to share. She also has a clearer understanding of ways to support, encourage and value her four-year-old granddaughter’s significant, creative and helpful role in the family.
Life is sometimes hard with and for four-year-olds but also very sweet and delicious. Recognition, understanding and appreciation for their developing identity is an awesome gift for everyone involved.