Every child feels some jealousy toward her siblings. A toddler may be jealous of the attention a new baby receives. A four-year-old may resent an older one’s abilities, privileges, and experience. A quiet child may resent the attention her more outgoing or accomplished sibling receives. While some jealousy is inevitable, consistent jealousy comes from a child’s belief that she’s being treated unfairly (from her point of view) by her parents.
Children are very sensitive to their parents’ words and actions: “You always let Tyler play with that.” “Mommy always yells at me.” “My brother always gets to stay up late.” Parents, at times, give more positive attention to one child. Perhaps they feel that he needs encouragement or is temporarily vulnerable: “You were so nice today.”
They may feel proud of one child’s accomplishments: “Show Grandma and Grandpa what you learned in ballet.” A child may be right about her treatment, or she may be misreading her situation. But as long as she thinks she’s being slighted or not given the attention she needs or wants, she’ll be jealous.
Parents’ attitudes and actions shape the relationships between siblings. Sometimes, without realizing it, parents favor one child. They may believe they’re fair, but in subtle and powerful ways, they give great cause for jealousy: “Becky knows how to pour her own juice. You need my help.” “Thank goodness Katie’s such an easy baby.” “Could you please be a good listener like your brother?”
When kids feel jealousy, they often express it: “You always let her sit there!” However, many parents get angry or won’t listen: “That’s not true!” “You sit on that chair just as many times as your brother.” If a child gets yelled at or in trouble for protesting, she’ll stop speaking up. Complaining is risky if it means making parents angry. A child who can’t express her feelings to her parents will act out, misbehave, or direct her anger or resentment toward her sibling, which will create sibling rivalry.
There are constructive changes you can make if you want to lessen sibling jealousy: Do the best you can at being fair. Be open to changing your ways, especially if jealousy between your children is significant. Don’t take sides or compare them to each other. Don’t expect the same behavior from each of your children. Give them the time and attention they need. Try to create a balance so that, despite differences in age, interests, personality, and skills, each of your children feels special and important.
Listen to her suggestions: “Watch me too.” “Don’t always talk about Ian.” When your child sees and experiences changes you make in how you respond to her and her siblings, she’ll start to feel better about her siblings, and she’ll begin to feel less jealous.