Written by Doctor G

Birthday Party Syndrome

My 8 year old was so excited for his sleepover birthday party.  We had 8 boys over, and we played games and did a craft and ate, all activities my son picked and helped to plan for.  But once in the evening and several times in the morning he burst into tears and it was hard to figure out what was the problem.  Now he says he can’t wait til his next birthday to have a sleepover party!  I don’t know if my heart can take it.  What do we do?

Sue, in Pocatello, ID

A: My husband and I call this “Birthday Party Syndrome.”  I have possibly NEVER been to a birthday party for someone age 13 or under when the birthday child didn’t melt down at some point or another.  I thought of getting a guest blogger to answer this – a wedding planner would certainly have plenty to say about tearful brides.

Think about birthday parties for the first decade or so of life.  Highly anticipated, incredibly exciting, and they are fairly unpredictable from the child’s point of view.

For some kids the problem is as simple as unmet expectations.  Kids believe that their birthday is ALL ABOUT THEM.  Since life is never all about one person for more than about 5 minutes in a row, this expectation is bound to trip them up.  They can’t win everything, be first at everything, pick everything and get everything their own way.  And this is a genuine surprise to kids.  Mostly because we spend other kids’ birthdays telling our kids to take a backseat – don’t blow on the candles, wait for cake, don’t touch those presents, let her go first.  They wait and wait for “their day.”

In addition, they are hyped up, sugared up and tired out!  Totally wired from excitement, when a friend looks at him wrong, takes the wrong seat, brings the wrong gift, a meltdown happens.  The birthday child may not even know why they are sobbing or yelling.

So what can you do?  Three suggestions to the party planners:

  1. Don’t open gifts at the party.  I know it means finding a way to thank later, but it’s worth it.  Opening gifts isn’t fun for anyone except the birthday kiddo and even they lose some of the enjoyment in the frenzy of ripping open a bunch of gifts in quick succession.  It’s a hard way to teach or show any gratitude.  Save it as a fun thing to do (maybe even spread over a few days) after the party.
  2. Trouble-shoot trouble spots.  If your child has a best friend that needs to be at his side, make place cards for the table assigning seats.  If your son has trouble “losing” at games, make him the assistant judge (an adult should have the final say) rather than being on a team.  If your daughter wants to be first at everything and that will be awkward, let her pick who gets to be first, as long as it’s a different person each time.
  3. Talk to your child about Birthday Party Syndrome before the event.  Come up with a few strategies that your child thinks they can use if he gets frustrated or sad or overwhelmed.  Perhaps he will give you a cue and that will be time for an activity change.  Maybe he will offer to go get more drinks and take a little time with you in the kitchen.  Just knowing that he will have times that things won’t feel perfect, and that you can help him when that happens, should lessen the problem.

And so, we parents put in dollars and hours and sweat to make birthday parties, knowing that they won’t go exactly as planned and that our child is likely to struggle at points.  But these are great life skills your child is learning.  So keep up the good work!


From Stress to Resilience In Five Minutes? YES!

Get the Dr. G’s Stress to Resilience kickstart guide and in five minutes discover how to transform stress into resilience. Weather it’s your business, your kids, or you, do stress better!

2 thoughts on “Birthday Party Syndrome”

  1. I agree with you 100% ! Its good that I saw what you wrote today since in 2 hours my daughter has a birthday party and I anticipate some melt downs!


Comments are closed.


How Can I Help?

A Little Bit About Dr. G

A widely recognized media personality, Dr. G is your go-to expert on resilience. Countless broadcast outlets rely on her contagious humor and illuminating stories to tackle tough topics. She is regularly seen on TV, as well as interviewed for print and digital outlets. Here, she’s answering your questions. Search for the answers you need, or ask her your question now!
Scroll to Top

A Newsletter All About Resilience

Sign up below to join Dr. G’s newsletter and discover how to ‘Do Stress Better’ and tap into the resilience that already exists inside of you.

Ask Dr. G Your Question

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Book Dr. G

Let Dr. G know you’re interested in having her speak. If you’d like to send her a message click here.

  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

After pressing submit your forms will be sent to Dr. G and her team. You can expect a response within 1 business day.

Media Inquiry Form

  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Insights to Transform Your Stress Into Your Resilience​

Please let us know where to send the Stress to Resilience guide and we’ll send it quick!