Jealousy is an emotion present in all human beings and signs of this feeling are evident even from early childhood.
Sonia Masciuch and Kim Kienapple published a study titled, The Emergence of Jealousy in Children 4 Months to 7 Years of Age’, in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (1993). In this study, they stated that, “Jealousy emerged most intensely in the majority of children between approximately 1.1 and 2.3 years, and at 3.5 years children distinguished between social situations which elicit jealousy.”
Feelings of jealousy can make children feel threatened and vulnerable, and cause them to display a range of bad behaviours. Let us look at some of the common triggers of jealousy in a child, the way feelings of jealousy manifest, the negative impacts, and what you can do to help your child deal with feelings of jealousy.
Some common factors that can trigger feelings of jealousy in a child are:
- Feeling of being left out upon the arrival of a younger sibling
- Being compared with others and made to feel inadequate
- Being made to engage in unhealthy competition
- Focussing on only the negative qualities
- Feeling of being rejected by others
- Material possessions
Some common manifestations of jealousy in a child are:
- Acting out behaviours
- Lack of attachment
- Trying too hard to please to gain attention
How jealousy can adversely affect a child:
Jealousy can affect the emotional health of a child in multiple ways. It can give rise to:
- Lack of attachment
- Poor sense of boundary
- Discriminatory behaviours
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of trust
- Making assumptions about others’ behaviour
Jealousy is a word that young children feel, but find hard to understand and describe. Parents can help them understand with examples and patient explanations. It’s also important to let them know that it is a normal emotion and it does not make the child a bad person. Jealousy is harmless until it prompts a child to do hurtful and destructive things to another person.
Jealousy is usually turned towards one or a few people, not most people. When constantly exhibited, it could indicate low self-esteem and poor self-worth, which make the child perceive things negatively. Parents can look beyond the jealousy and talk to the child about other feelings of anger, sadness, guilt and fear. The child could be struggling with some of these emotions deep inside. The approach must be gentle, reassuring and caring. If there are no underlying issues, pay less attention to it, and build on the child’s strengths and other positive qualities and abilities.
- Arundhati Swamy, Counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle
How to help your child cope with jealousy:
Unlike adults, children are not capable of dealing with feelings of jealousy. If you suspect that your child is showing symptoms of jealousy, here’s how you can help her overcome them:
- Lend her your ear: To find out the reasons that trigger feelings of jealousy in your little one and make him act out, you need to talk to your child. While talking to your child will help you understand the reasons and come up with the right solutions, it will allow your child to give vent to his negative feelings.
- Stress on adopting positive means: Most young children feel jealous of material possessions of other children like certain toys or gadgets. This can make them resort to stealing or forcibly taking control of the item. So, teach your child positive ways of acquiring things she likes — for example, saving money to buy a toy that her friend has. This will boost her confidence and help her understand the value of money.
- Highlight strengths: Not only adults, but children also have the habit of comparing themselves with others their age, like siblings or friends. So, while acknowledging what others have, you should also tell your child about her own strengths—for example, “Your friend is good at sports and you are good at painting.”
- Reinforce values: Instead of praising material possessions, make a habit of appreciating an individual for the values he possesses. For example, instead of appreciating the new bicycle your child’s friend has, compliment his sense of discipline. Also, make your child understand that instead of being upset about what he doesn’t have, he should be thankful for all that he has. Tell him that it is not possible for everyone to have everything.
- Keep a journal: If your child is grown up and you think that she is at the right age to start writing a diary, encourage her to keep a journal of jealousy. Tell her to write about everything that makes her feel jealous, and then write about how she will overcome that feeling.
- Encourage charity: Teach your child about the values of charity and encourage him to donate those items that he no longer finds interesting or useful. Not only will this make your child feel empowered, but also help him develop feelings of empathy and compassion for others.
- Show your love: Children begin feeling jealous when they feel that they are not being loved and valued. So, do not hesitate or hold yourself back when it comes to hugging and cuddling your child, and showering her with your love.
It is impossible to prevent humans from feeling jealous. However, by following the above techniques, you can help your child deal with this feeling. But, while you are helping your child cope with jealousy, you should also desist from modelling such negative behaviour.
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