How to Help Your Child to Deal With Jealousy
Jealousy in children is a fairly common phenomenon. Families with two or more children experience it on a daily basis. The older child attacks the younger one, they quarrel and fight, the younger one pushes the dad away as he tries to hug the mother… But only a few of the parents think about how complex the mechanism of children jealousy actually is – and what serious consequences it can lead to. This article is for caring mothers and fathers who want their children to become friends and help them maintain this good relationship throughout their lives.
- The nature of jealousy in children
- Types of jealousy
- Coping with jealousy
The nature of jealousy in children
Where does it stem from?
What is jealousy? It is a negative feeling that is ignited in a person in the event of a lack of love and attention from a person important to them. The important people in the life of a child are parents, and, in particular, the mother. And when the attention of a mother is directed not entirely towards the child, but at something else, in their eyes, jealousy appears. This may be also felt towards a younger brother or sister, a second parent, or even a stranger.
Jealousy is one of the most difficult and unpleasant experiences that a child can go through. It is followed by the fear of losing an adult meaningful to them, the anxiety to be no longer important and loved, and anger towards the person who has taken this love away.
Since the child experiences a wide range of feelings and is not able to control behavior, the child’s jealousy is often accompanied by conflicts and quarrels between children.
Psychologists identify five reasons for jealousy in children:
1. The child’s egocentrism («I am the center of the Universe, and everything revolves around me»).
The child considers their self as the most significant member of the family and of the society and expects all the love and attention from everyone around to be directed solely towards them.
2. A reaction to injustice
The child begins to be jealous when parents start devoting more time to their younger brother or sister, or to each other, forgetting about the needs of their son or daughter.
3. Difficulty to express love
The emotional development of the child is at an embryonic stage; therefore, they cannot always adequately express warm feelings towards their parents, especially if they have not been taught to do so. Hence, the kid uses jealousy as one of the methods of displaying their love.
Increased sensitivity of the child and the feeling of anxiety for minor reasons also contributes to jealousy in children.
5. The feeling of helplessness
A child understands that while they cannot exist independently without mom and dad at this early stage of life, in order to protect the parents from everyone around, they use a protective mechanism, which is jealousy.
If the family is raising children with a small age difference, the relationship between them can range from love to hate: they can be watching TV hugging each other and then, in five minutes, they can start fighting.
In large families, with the birth of the third and subsequent children, both the jealousy of the elders and of the youngest gradually disappears. Children become used to taking care of each other, supporting each other and standing up for their siblings.
How to understand that a child is jealous?
- When the second child becomes part of the family, the first-born begins to demonstrate regression of their abilities. The kid suddenly «forgets» all the acquired skills: how to dress, to wash their face, go to the bathroom on their own and start asking mother for help. Some children ask to start wearing diapers again or want to listen to a lullaby before going to sleep.
It’s simple: the child understands that being a newborn is much more beneficial – it allows them to be universally loved and cared for, for any of their actions to be considered adorable and to be free from any duties.
- The child’s sleep becomes disturbed, they suffer from a loss of appetite and their pre-existing medical conditions are worsened. Particularly sensitive children may start experiencing neurological problems (tics, stuttering, and other pathologies).
This way, jealousy becomes manifested in the form of a psychosomatic reaction.
- The child starts demonstrating aggression and hostility towards a new member of the family. If this is a newborn, then the situation can become really dangerous. Cases where older children intentionally harmed the younger ones are alarmingly frequent.
- The child becomes anti-social, depressed, uncommunicative with the birth of a sibling. They could also become naughty, mischievous or start making scenes.
What are the dangers of jealousy in children?
At first glance, the expressions of jealousy do not seem that bad. Yes, the older child is jealous of the younger, upsets brother or sister and can even beat them – it may be assumed that will pass with age, and they will become friends and will be taking care of each other.
But not everything is as rosy as it seems. Dear parents, don’t forget that jealousy is a negative emotion and that it stems from anger and fear.
If the child does not get rid of jealousy in childhood, this feeling will continue to haunt them for the rest of his life, restricting them from being able to build a happy and harmonious family. The accumulated fears and anxiety will create all together with a «fertile soil» for mental disorders.
The child, whose worries have not been taken care of and resolved, turns into a cruel and cynical adult, unfamiliar with the feeling of compassion and sympathy.
The feeling of jealousy causes not only the child himself to suffer, but also damages their relationship with parents and other family members. It can often occur for brothers and sisters to remain in a situation of competition and hostility towards each other, even when they become grown-up independent people.
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Types of jealousy
Towards one of the parents
Most often, kids suffer from jealousy for their mother, towards the father. An opposite occurrence is also possible when a daughter has a close emotional bond with her father.
The mother is the main person for the child and a highly important part of their world. Any diversion of the attention of the mother towards another person, even the father, is perceived by the child as a threat to their safety. The child deploys their protective mechanism – jealousy. With this, comes the desire to make scenes, to spend all their time with their mother, to follow her around and to behave well only in her presence.
Towards brothers and sisters
A child is born in the family and surrounded by omnipresent care and attention. Mom and dad fulfill all the desires of the newborn, grandparents gift toys excessively, the baby feels loved. And then a second child becomes part of the family. Everything that was previously given to the first-born is now given to the younger brother or sister. What will the child be experiencing at this point? First of all, the fear of losing the love and attention of parents. Secondly, a concern for future changes in their life. And, of course, negativity towards the «culprit» of all these changes, which can be expressed through aggressive actions, mood swings, and tantrums. If jealousy goes into a latent phase, the child becomes overly reserved and depressed.
Towards other adults and children
When parents get divorced, sooner or later new people enter the life of the child’s mother and father. The child’s natural reaction would be denial and rejection of a new family member. The child can be already stressed because of the divorce of their parents, and be getting used to new circumstances, but then a new irritating factor appears – a stranger in the role of mom or dad, demanding love and respect almost in the form of an order.
The reaction of children can be very diverse. The older the child, the harder it is for them to get used to a new stepmother or stepfather. Preschoolers and primary school students can be hostile, but with a good, friendly attitude, they quickly get used to a new parent. Teenagers often ignore their stepmother or stepfather and refuse to obey them, stating as part of their protest: «You are not my mother/father!»
If stepbrothers and sisters appear in the family, the child also has to build relationships with them, which can vary from a mutual understanding to hatred and open rivalry.
Children may also become jealous of their «overly successful» neighbors’ children or classmates whom their parents constantly set out as an example.
Coping with jealousy
The correct reaction of parents
When coming across jealousy in children, it is important for parents to learn how to respond to it adequately.
If you notice that the child is jealous of you towards their dad, their sibling or another person, do not neglect this, do not expect the things to disappear by themselves. This is a child’s cry for help, love, and attention.
Talk with the child, explain that you understand their feelings and that you will not tell the kid off for them. Tell the child that you love them very much, that you are proud of them and that you want everyone in your family to live together and maintain a good relationship.
Carefully monitor the well-being of the child: as previously mentioned, jealousy can go into a latent form.
How could it be prevented?
Don’t forget the most important rule: it is better to prevent jealousy in children than to later deal with its consequences.
Preparing a child for the birth of a brother or sister
- Inform that in the nearest future, a newborn will become part of your family as soon as the child begins to notice changes in the appearance of the mother.
- Let them know how wonderful it is to have a brother or a sister, what a reliable friend will they be and how fun will it be to play and spend time together.
- Give the child an opportunity to start communicating with their brother or sister while they are still in the womb. The kid can talk with their sibling-to-be, tell them tales and feel them through the mother’s belly.
- Imagine with your child how will the baby be once they are born: the color of the eyes and hair, what will they like and what they will dislike.
- Choose the toys, the bed, the stroller, and other accessories for the newborn with the firstborn, ask for their opinion.
- Prepare the child for the upcoming changes in your lives: «Here we will put the crib for the baby, and you will now have your own room. Imagine how grown-up you are already!», «Now you sliding of a hill by yourself, but soon you will be doing so with your younger brother. You will be together with him almost all the time while playing and walking. Imagine how close of a friend will he becomes for you!».
- Explain that at first, the brother will be very little and that he will neither walk nor talk, so the child will have to wait until his sibling grows up a little. In the meantime, he will need to be protected and taken care of.
- After giving birth to a second child, do not turn the first-born into a nanny. The oldest kid also has the right to their childhood.
- Explain to the child how to handle the newborn (not to make noise while they are sleeping, to pick them up carefully, etc.).
- Let the child offer their help – in finding the pacifier that fell on the floor, bringing a bottle or rocking their stroller. If the kid would want to hold the baby, do not refuse it to their by any means. If you are afraid that kid could drop the baby, sit next to them and ensure everything is fine.
- Do not leave the older and younger children on their own! This is a matter of safety. Even if it seems that the older one loves the baby, takes care of them and does not demonstrate any signs of aggression, you cannot imagine how inventive children can be. And, perhaps, while you are washing the dishes, the eldest daughter will want to give the baby candy or orange, make them ride a bicycle or paint their nails with markers.
- Emphasize the emotional closeness of children more frequently, with stories of how the older child will become the best brother or sister for the baby, will teach the younger to ride the bicycle, ice skate and play football. Let your child feel like an important person in the life of a newborn.
- Do not give your older child to your grandmother or aunt while you are busy taking care of the newborn. The first-born will feel useless, isolated from the family and will think that the parents want to «get rid» of them.
If a new adult becomes part of the family
- It is advisable to introduce the child to the stepfather or stepmother before starting to live together. A new person should gradually enter the life of the child and win their trust. You will need to give them time to get to know each other.
- Explain to your child why someone else has become part of the family; tell that this person will love both the child and the parent and will take care of them.
- Organize trips, for example, to an amusement park, together with your new partner. But don’t do it obsessively. If a child today only wants to go with their mother, give them an opportunity to do so.
- It would be better if the stepfather or stepmother will adopt the lifestyle of your family in order to foster friendly relations.
- Discuss in advance how will the child communicate with their father or mother in the event of a divorce. Schedule appointments for meetings between the child and each of the parents.
- Many divorced parents begin to wind up their children against the new partner of their mother/father. This should not happen under any circumstances! The child is already under stress due to the separation of their parents. The aggravation of the conflict between parents with the use of the child’s feelings will lead to serious consequences on the mental well-being of the child.
Tips of a psychologist
- If there are several children in your family, give each of them some one-on-one time, when the child can be alone with their mother, get the attention and care from her. For example, when the father goes for a walk with the newborn, the mother plays with dolls and draws with her older daughter.
- Do not give the younger child toys and other possessions of the older one without their permission, even if they have lost interest in them.
- Do not compare your children, be happy with the successes of both of them!
- Split the love and care equally between each child. All of them need parental affection, will it be a newborn, a preschooler, or a teenager.
- During quarrels between children, do not take the side of the youngest child only because they are smaller. If you punish the children for fighting, do it in the same way.
- In the event of a demonstration of aggression (in any form: children starting to fight, pushing each other, calling each other names, etc), put an end to it immediately. Explain that they are part of one family, which means they are friends for life, and their parents love them in equal proportions.
- Spend more time with the entire family: walk, travel and play together. This will strengthen not only your relationship with your children but also will bring siblings closer and will make them more responsive.
Jealousy is a completely natural phenomenon for a child. In the opinion of a children’s psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott, «Jealousy arises from the fact that children love. There can only not be jealous if they are unable to love». The main point that parents should remember is that jealousy is very unlikely to be avoided, but minimizing its’ manifestations and giving an opportunity to every child to feel important and needed, is fully achievable by the parents.