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Sibling Rivalry: Dealing with Jealousy

Laura Hahn

 Despite occasional jealousy bouts, they do really love each other. :)

Despite occasional jealousy bouts, they do really love each other. :)

My kids are almost exactly 2.5 years apart, with my son now 3.5 years old and daughter newly one. While my son’s jealousy and behavior was probably the worst at the very beginning--lots of crying and acting out--I'm noticing now that he's older, his jealousy comes out differently. For example, he regresses into baby talk, does the same things that his little sister is doing in that moment that we think is cute, and verbalizes that he wants something "just like Hadley." When we notice him regressing, we identify it so he knows he's doing it so he can stop. He doesn't need to act like a baby to get attention. There are great things about being older and being an older brother that he couldn't do when he was a baby. Conversely, now that my daughter is turning into a toddler, she actually knows what she wants and even gets jealous of her brother, whether he's sitting in her chair or in my lap and she wants him to move. Still being so young, for Hadley, redirection is key.

I believe that jealousy in kids most often stems from insecurity, especially in regards to siblings. They want attention, and are jealous that their sibling is taking away from that. Obviously as parents, we would love to give each child undivided attention all the time, but unfortunately that is physically impossible as long as everyone lives under the same roof. Some ways to deal with it include taking a clue from our good friend Daniel Tiger: talk it through. "When you feel jealous, talk about it...and we'll figure something out." How wise he is! Getting your child to express him or herself is the first step, and helping them form those sentences can be really helpful when they're not sure why they're feeling the way they are. I remember one morning when I had brought Hadley into our bed to nurse her, Darian had come in shortly thereafter and was having a fit about us opening the blinds. We did not get it at first, but I figured it must have stemmed from him feeling jealous. When I talked to him about it, I was trying to guess what it could be--and it turned out that he still wanted it to be like night time because he thought Hadley had slept in bed with us and he wanted to be included. After I said that and affirmed him, he calmed down immediately!

Some other ways to help deal with jealousy between siblings is to take turns. If both of them can't fit on your lap or the cushy chair at once, then taking turns helps give some order. Another great option is to take your kids out on individual “dates,” or at least have one-on-one time together so they can get dedicated time with you without the other sibling. At the very least, we can make them feel secure with lots of hugs and our words by reminding them how much we love them and by giving examples of how they can know we do. Whenever Darian gets a special treat from his grandparents, I ask him if he knows why they gave it to him and he knows the reason now: because they love him.

We all get a little jealous sometimes--adults included!--but all we need to do to feel better about it is to talk about it and not just hear affirming words, but to feel them too. Kids act out most often not because they (surprise!) want to ruin our lives, but because they probably have an underlying issue. Jealousy is also not just a phase for kids, since adults fall victim to it too. Helping our kids cope with it can help us too.

What are some helpful tips you've used to help ease jealousy?