Dealing with Jealous Feelings

There are always people who have more than us – just like there are always those who have less. Unfortunately, instead of feeling grateful for having more than others do, it is all too easy for children, teens and even adults to feel jealous of those who have more. Jealous feelings are not only unpleasant to experience, but also potentially destructive; the emotion can transform otherwise well-behaved youngsters into “green-eyed monsters” who behave very badly. “Why does HE have more! It isn’t fair!” can be followed by grabbing whatever it is out of the child’s hand. Older kids may react by snubbing or mocking others – or worse. It’s important then that parents teach their children how to manage jealousy and envy from an early age.

If your child experiences jealousy feelings, consider the following tips:

Be “Fair” not “Equal”
In your home, make it a priority to meet the individual needs of family members. If one child needs new shoes, he or she gets them – but there is no need to get shoes for another child in the family who does not currently need them. Getting both children shoes would be trying to make things “equal” whereas getting each child shoes when they’re needed is “fair.” When the child asks “Why does SHE get new shoes and I don’t?” you can answer “because SHE needs shoes now and you don’t.  When YOU need shoes, you’ll be getting them – I promise!” In other words, everyone will get what they need at the right time.

When serving dessert, refrain from taking out the ruler to make sure everyone gets the exact same size piece of cake. “He has a bigger piece!” can be answered with “It all works out in the end – sometimes his piece is a bit bigger and sometimes yours is the bigger one.” Your relaxed attitude and your refusal to try to make things equal can help a child learn that equality is not really necessary.

Easy & Difficult Children
Most parents do not have difficulty treating their kids approximately the same – giving each approximately (not exactly!) the same kind of wardrobe, the same types of privileges and so on. Where parents might experience a greater challenge would be in the way they treat favored and not-favored children. For instance, it is just easier to smile at, joke around with and complement easy-going, cooperative children. More challenging children tend to earn themselves more criticism, complaint and negativity. Treating the “easy” child and the “difficult” child the same is quite a challenge – but try to do it anyway. Children are VERY sensitive. The difficult child doesn’t want to be difficult (no matter what it looks like to you); he or she is suffering from some internal challenge. The child can easily see that you like a sibling more and the subsequent jealousy and hurt can be very destructive. It’s O.K. to ACT more loving than you feel; care less about the risk of possible deception and more about the devastating effects of parental rejection. And, of course, it is essential to avoid making comparisons between the children. Each one needs to be celebrated according to his or her OWN milestones and accomplishments.

Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem
As much as you can, emphasize, acknowledge and celebrate each of your children’s strengths — let them know that they are people of worth and value. Show them everyday how much they matter to you. Furthermore, communicate that everyone is unique, with their own gifts and charisms. A sibling may be a better singer, but it doesn’t mean that one is inferior or lacking. Perhaps one’s talent lies elsewhere! Having cute nicknames that highlight each child’s strength and unique identity can help – only if the child identifies positively with his or her nickname. For instance, in one family, we might have “Canary Carol” or sings so beautifully and “Hammer Henry” who is a very competent young handyman. Avoid potentially insulting labels like “Brainy Ben” – the brains in the family and his less bright sister “Beautiful Betty” – it is much more important to highlight Betty’s strongpoints in skill, talent and personality than just her exterior looks. Everyone has some speciality – finding one of your child’s many strong points highlights this fact and reduces insecurity and jealousy.

Most importantly, encourage your child to celebrate the sibling’s successes and strengths. Help your kids to feel the joy of pride in a sibling’s accomplishment – whether it is the building of a tall block tower or winning on the debating team. Encourage a family feeling of group identification: “You little Rosses are all adorable!” (or brilliant, super, thoughtful, etc.). Also encourage each child to bring gifts for the others in the family – “Did you get candy when you went to see Grandma today? Why don’t you offer some to your brother?” Follow up with the CLeaR Method (comment, label reward – see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for details). “You shared so nicely. That was so generous of you! I think you both deserve to go to the park with Mommy this afternoon.”

Name and Accept Feelings
When your child expresses a jealous feeling, refrain from reprimanding him. A feeling is just a feeling – just name it:  “Yes, I understand that you’d like new shoes now too. It’s hard to wait. It doesn’t seem fair.”  Without using the word “but” make a new sentence to continue your thoughts: “You’ll be getting new shoes when you need them. Remember how you got shoes in the summer but no one else in the family did? That’s because YOU needed them and they didn’t. Everyone gets shoes when they need them.”

Discipline Misbehavior
While feelings are all acceptable, behaviors may not be. If your jealous child lashes out at you or a sibling, the misbehavior needs correction. “I understand that you wanted his toy. You cannot grab it from him – you need to wait your turn. From now on, when you grab things away from him, you won’t get your turn at all that day.” (See the 2X-Rule of discipline in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.)

Consider Bach Flower Therapy
The Bach Flower Remedy called “Holly” can help ease jealous and angry feelings. This harmless, water-based remedy can help “turn off” the tendency to fall into jealousy (learn more about Bach Flowers in “Bach Flower Remedies” on this site).

Consider Professional Help
If your child is really suffering jealous feelings and your interventions are not helping, do consult a mental health professional for further guidance.

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