Children are exquisitely sensitive. They have to learn a great deal in a short amount of time, so their brains are hard-wired for imitation, repetition, inference and unspoken language. Parents have to shield children for life’s harshest aspects, so they tend to think that they can hide their feelings as well, especially if those feelings are conflicted or touch on anger, hurt, jealousy and doubt. In families where the parents are experiencing relationship problems, jealousy among the children can arise as the reflection of the parent’s complex conflict.
One thing that must be communicated clearly within families is that it is perfectly normal for children to experience feelings of jealousy or resentment toward their brothers and sisters at some point. We are all human with occasional selfish tendencies and life can’t always be fair. It is inevitable that children may pick up on even trace amounts of favoritism. “It’s not fair!” and “Mom always liked you best!” have probably been shouted out by children since the Stone Age. When the jealousy between siblings becomes violent or persistent then the problem must be addressed head on with a combination of firmness and compassion. The consequences of untreated jealousy can be stunted emotional growth, exaggerated selfishness and erratic, sometimes dangerous, cries for attention. These are actually common issues encountered by children of divorce and separated parents. These troubled children deserve extra care and support, not shaming and condemnation.
The best way to shorten or avoid the rivalries altogether is by reminding children frequently about all the ways that they are unique and wonderful in themselves. Here are 4 ways to help children resolve their differences and become lifelong friends as well as siblings.
- Help them work it out.
Don’t always step in to decide. Offer them alternatives and explanations, remind them of how much fun they have had playing together, then step away. Allow them plenty of time to practice problem resolution skills.
- Build their self-esteem.
It doesn’t matter what someone else has if you are happy with your own life. Gift them the gift of gratitude and confidence with these self-esteem boosters.
- Call on The Boat.
One of the most effective metaphors for a family is a boat on the ocean in a storm. Read a book or watch a movie together about people on a boat who have to pull together to weather the storm. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” for example, shows two very different crews and the benefits of working together.
- Plan a day out.
When their worlds are bigger, petty squabbles don’t matter so much. Get them out of the four walls they see every day and show them the abundance of the outside world. Export the 2houses calendar to your smartphone and give them a field trip that they will remember the rest of their lives.