The green-eyed monster. Jealousy. There is a reason "monster" is in the cute little phrase used to describe that ugly feeling. That is what you become when you feel jealous. A monster. It is so easy for children to get jealous. And let's be real, it is so easy for adults to be jealous. Children are even more prone simply due to lack of life experience. They don't have that experience to draw from to help them calm that little monster.
Children can feel jealous of siblings and jealous of friends. They can be jealous of time, attention, food, privileges, activities, material goods...It is all there. Jealousy is toxic. It is toxic in a family and toxic in a friendship. It is very hard to be around people who are jealous.
I very much do not want my children to be jealous of others. Will it creep up? Sure. I am positive they will feel pangs of jealousy creep up from time to time. But I am also positive there are many things you can instill in a person to help prevent jealousy from ever taking over his life. I think you can push that pang aside so quickly you might not even notice it was there. So how do you help a child (or yourself!) squash that monster rather than feed it?
Do Not Keep Things "Equal"
I have talked about fair versus equal in the past. Fair is what is right for the individual child. Equal is the same for everyone. Seldom is equal really ever fair. Should an 8 year old get all of the same gifts for Christmas as a 3 year old? Is that really fair to either of them? Perhaps in certain instances, the same gift is appropriate (say you got a season pass to a place). In many instances, it is not fair.
Children of different ages should not be treated the exact same. If you find yourself doing that, then you are likely simultaneously allowing too much freedom for the younger child and not enough freedom to the older child. Sometimes you can tip the balance all the way one way, but people usually end up in between somewhere.
When a child is used to having things "equal" just because, then the child cannot handle any time something happens that isn't equal. That can be true in the family and outside the family. A child who has full equality among siblings will struggle out in the real world, and the real world gets real teh first time your child does an activity out of the home. Soccer team, school, dance class...welcome real world.
Your child might go to a friend's house and see he has different toys. That isn't fair! Jealousy creeps up. Your child won't be line leader one day at school. That isn't fair! There is the jealousy. Your child tries out for a competitive sports team and doesn't make it. Unfair once again!
Really, those things are unequal, not unfair. And equal is not always fair. So keep things fair at home--truly fair--and do not aim for equal.
For more, read Fair vs. Equal.
Encourage Happiness for Others
Jealousy stems from selfishness. A person who is selfish will feel jealous rather than feel happy for others. Whenever someone gets a new toy, runs faster, gets a better grade, or gets a "good job!", the child will feel jealous.
I really work on instilling happiness for others in my children. When they tell me about a fun thing or a success a friend has, I talk about how great that is for the friend.
And I see it works.
One of Brayden's (age 11) best friends is a natural athlete. Seriously fantastic at every sport he plays. He is good at it even the very first time he plays it. For a mile race run among 9 elementary schools, this friend was dubbed the "green dot." This meant that our school said he is our fastest runner. The one to beat. It is a huge honor.
Brayden was so happy for his friend. He thought it was fantastic. He knew his friend deserved it. When he told me, I was happy for his friend. I knew he deserved it. I talked about how awesome that is for his friend. On race day, the friend had a side ache early in the day. Brayden came to me worried about his friend and what that side ache would mean for his running ability. He wanted his friend to do well. He did not view the success of his friend as a means to devaluing his own success. "Blowing out someone else's candle doesn't make yours burn any brighter." This is what we need to be sure our children understand.
So when your child comes to you reporting the success of someone, respond with enthusiasm. Talk about how happy that friend must be feeling. Get your child thinking about the feelings of others and not just herself. You want to instill selflessness, kindness, love, civility... all of those great qualities. Those are qualities that will help your child feel happy for others rather than jealous of others.
Avoid Cheering Your Child Up
That might seem like an odd thing to say. Let me explain. There might be times your child comes to
"Your friend got a new pet? Well listen to all the downsides of having a pet."
"Your friend has this family situation that is the opposite of ours? Well let me explain why our family situation is actually the best family situation."
While your intention is to help your child recognize the good in his life and be happy for it, you are actually only perpetuating the comparing, which is leading to the jealousy. Children whose parents respond in that manner often go back to the friends and tell the friend all the reasons why their good fortune is actually bad and dumb and not really good after all. They will then go on to explain why their situation is better. Life doesn't need to be a competition. Focus on the kindness and love toward others.
"Your friend got a new dog? That is so exciting! I bet she is so excited for that pet. Is she so happy about it?"
Many times, the child will respond positively from there. When they start to think of how the friend feels, they will feel happy for the friend.
But there might at times be a response of, "But I want a new dog!"
The response to give is NOT, "Oh no. You don't want a dog. Do you know how much work a dog is? Every time we went on vacation, we would have to find someone to take care of it...." No. Then the child goes to the friend and, in order to make herself feels better, tells the friend all of the horrible things about having a dog. Your child doesn't feel better and the friend feels sad or confused.
You respond with some sympathy. "I know you want a new dog. That would be really fun. It is hard to want something and not be able to get it. We can't get a new dog right now. But you can still be happy for your friend getting a new dog right now."
Work on instilling gratitude at a different time in life. Yes, you want your child to be happy for what she has, but you don't teach it by putting down others. That isn't true gratitude. Our children look to us to see how they should appropriately respond to life situations, and if our response is to essentially put something down, no matter how well-intentioned our actions, it teaches our children to put things down when they feel that jealousy creeping up.
The process of avoiding jealousy is really quite simple, but it must be intentional. You don't want jealousy to take hold of your child. If so, your child will resent the triumphs of others. You want your child to be able to be happy for others. Think of how much more happiness a person feels who is happy not only for themselves, but for others as well! If you reserve happiness for only your own successes and good news, the reality of this world is it won't even come daily. But if you add in happiness for others and you can feel that happiness multiple times a day. Your child can push that green eyed monster down and be free of those ugly feelings. Squash that monster and enjoy life more fully.
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