There's no denying the bond of siblings. A sibling can become your best friend, your playmate, and someone you can always depend on. But there will also be times in their lives where they will face sibling jealousy. Those feeling of jealousy can crop up for any number of reasons: one of them got a toy and the other one didn't; one was invited to a birthday party and the other wasn’t; a new sibling joins the family and attracts a lot of attention. Jealousy can be expressed in different ways, but it’s something completely normal. So how can we help our kids with these valid emotions? Here’s the rundown on what to do and how to handle it.
When your kids are little it’s adorable watching them start to play together. You see them care for each other and may think for a second that this is how things will stay, but there will inevitably be moments when they disagree. It may be over who gets to play with a toy, who gets the last gummy, who gets a certain seat in the car, or even over the new baby in the family, who your toddler has decided not to like! You may feel like you're playing tug-of-war to please everyone sometimes. Though most of these moments happen when children are young, these can also happen as they grow older. Times of jealousy can be rough for both parents and children.
Jealousy is defined as showing or feeling envy of someone of their achievements, advantages, or possessions. Feelings of jealousy in children is something completely normal and something we should help them understand and navigate. They may express these feelings by fighting, crying, throwing tantrums, or simply not wanting anything to do with their sibling. Here in this post I will share some situations in which we can help turn that green-eyed monster into a healthy relationship between them.
When a New Sibling Joins the Family
This truly is a time that your family will always remember. There's so much joy and excitement around having a new baby in your lives. You watch your kids become a big brother/sister and can't wait for all the memories they will make together. But I don't need to tell you that having a baby takes up a lot of your time--feeding them, getting them to sleep, finding time for you to sleep, and lots of diaper changes. With all this change, your child may feel like you don't have time for them or that you favor the new baby, which we know is not true. So how can we help your older child not feel that way?
First, you can help prepare them for baby's arrival by reading picture books about bringing home a new baby. These stories can help your child prepare for what is coming and know what to expect. You can also simply help your child imagine what life with a new baby will be like. Instead of making the baby be the reason why you can't play with them right away or why you can't go to a specific place, replace your wording with, "I'll come play with you in 2 minutes," or, "We'll go to the park later today." This will help your child not feel ignored, and will let them know that their needs are still very important to you.
Have them help out with little things involving the baby. (They may just do that without you even asking). When they help grab the diaper, give a baby a toy, or grab baby's pacifier, praise them! Let them know what an amazing big brother/sister they’re being. Tell your child thank you for their efforts. Gush over how they're being so helpful, or just tell them how much you love them. Remember, this is a short time that will soon pass. Your child will start to get used to the baby, and soon enough baby will grow and they will become little buddies.
Fighting Over Possessions or Special Treatment
Whether it is on purpose or not, there will be times in your children's lives that one child will get something and the other one won't. It can be that one didn't finish their dinner so they get to have dessert. Or one got more candy trick-or-treating than the other. Some examples can be big and some can be small. Again this is natural. Even adults want what they don't have. So how do we help them grow from these situations? Teaching empathy is a great way to start. For example, your son had a birthday party and their sibling feels bad they don’t get to open any presents. To diffuse the jealousy, help your child relate to their siblings' feelings and talk about past experiences to remind them how it feels to be in their sibling's shoes--for example, talk about how special it was to open presents on their own birthday, and ask how they would feel if someone else opened their presents. This can create empathy. It is important to remember that a child can't correct their behavior when they don’t know how it impacts others.
Other Ways to Help
Encourage them to work together. Remind them that they are a team and not to compete against each other. The less competition between them, the more they will see the positive relationship that can be formed as brother and sister.
Set one-on-one time. I’ve done this personally with all my kids and I love the time I get to really just focus on them. My husband and I have taken special one-on-one time with our oldest two children right before their newest sibling was born. It was important to remind them that even though life's a little different right now, we can still have time together. You can use the time when your other child is at school or soccer practice to play games with your other child. You can set aside time to read together before bedtime. You can play a board game together. It doesn't have to be something big, but time you set apart for them will be so meaningful, and help them remember that they don't need to fight for your love and attention.
- Focus on your/their emotions. When in the midst of their arguing or fighting with each other, remain calm. Don’t downplay their jealous feelings or try to invalidate them. Have your child take a deep breath, get on their level (literally, lean down or crouch so you are eye-level!) and, if needed, have fighting children each go to different spots in the house for a couple minutes to regroup. This will help them calm down, and then when it’s time to come back together, have them express their feelings, letting them each have their turn to talk.
- Don't compare. Don’t say, “Nathan listens to me, why can’t you?” or “Your brother would never have done that!” or “Why can’t you get grades in school like your sister?” This is a sure-fire way to increase sibling jealousy and also damage your child's self esteem.
- Reassure them of your love. This is a proven way to always help your jealous child feel better. During moments of jealousy, all your child wants to feel is heard. Hear them out. This will make their feelings feel validated and important. Not only is this a way to help them understand, express, and resolve their feelings, but it also creates that one-on-one time. In moments where they're not feeling special, remind them of your love, what makes them special, and what you love about them.
Remember that these moments of jealousy are temporary and that with these tips you can help improve their relationship with their siblings and with you, and you can also help them understand how to cope with their emotions.