As humans, it’s in our nature to begin comparing ourselves to others and experiencing jealousy. No matter how much you provide for your child, feelings of jealousy can arise for several reasons. It can be material, such as wanting toys or games that their classmates have. Your child can become jealous of another classmate’s academic skills or athletic abilities. When they feel left out by friends or overlooked because of a sibling, they can start developing negative thoughts or feelings towards those people.
At the center of jealousy is the feeling of fear, insecurity, or competition. This can happen naturally, but parents can unknowingly nurture envious attitudes in their children through excessive pampering, explicitly comparing them to other children, being too overprotective or too strict, or creating unhealthy competition among siblings or peers.
The negative emotion may be new to children, and they may not know how to cope with it independently. If left unchecked, jealousy can lead to lower self-esteem, overly possessive behaviors, feelings of helplessness, aggression towards others, or isolation. There are a few ways parents can help teach their children to acknowledge and cope with feelings of jealousy.
1. Listen to your child’s reasons and concerns.
Jealousy is not a superficial emotion but is often the result of a more deep-rooted issue. Listen to your child and talk to them about what may be causing those feelings.
If they have any worries, fears, or concerns, make sure to empathize with them and let them know that you understand. When children feel like their feelings are normal and they can talk about these negative emotions openly, they may be able to overcome jealousy on their own.
2. Acknowledge feelings but instill positive behaviors.
When your child feels jealous, it’s essential to recognize and validate their emotions. All feelings should be natural and acceptable. However, how they behave as a result of that feeling can have inevitable consequences.
Help your child first name their feeling of jealousy instead of trying to express it through unhealthy actions. Then come up with appropriate reactions to feelings of jealousy together, such as talking about it with a trusted adult first or taking a short break away from the situation. Another possible solution to jealous feelings is to share and care for others. When children learn to share their belongings with others, it can help remove jealousy and make friends.
3. Focus on strengths and personal growth.
When your child has negative thoughts about themselves, they can quickly become jealous of others who seem to be better than them. Help your kid focus on their strengths by highlighting the skills they possess. For example, if your child sees others doing better than them academically, encourage them to study hard to get better grades instead of comparing themselves to others and feeling bad about themselves.
Fostering a growth mindset will also help your child develop their weaknesses and learn from their mistakes rather than feeling incompetent and stuck. When children believe in their abilities, their attitude changes from, “Something is lacking,” to “I am enough.”
4. Avoid any comparisons.
One of the easiest ways to foster jealous attitudes is by comparing your child to others on their performance academically, athletically, creatively, etc. Comparisons devalue a person instead of highlighting their unique talents and skills. Help your child find out what they enjoy doing and are good at, and encourage them to master those skills instead of aiming to be like others.
5. Refrain from overpraising your child.
Though it may seem like a good idea, praising your child too much can actually create a false sense of confidence in their abilities. When struggling children see others excelling in certain situations, overpraising them can tempt them to think badly of others to compensate for their lack.
Instead, praise your child’s effort concerning the outcome, emphasizing their learning and progress more than just the result. This will encourage them to work hard in order to learn instead of seeking a reward.
When children know that jealousy is normal, they will be better prepared to handle it in positive ways rather than reacting negatively. Help them to verbalize their feelings or play it out with their toys. Jealousy cannot be eliminated completely, but you can use some of these tips to help your child learn to cope in positive ways.
Emily currently lives in Orange County, California after spending four years in Illinois and half a year teaching in Florence, Italy. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Knox College and an M.A. in Counseling from the University of San Diego and has taught English to native speakers and ESL students for over three years. When she’s not working as a School Counselor or writing, she enjoys traveling the world, playing instruments, and blogging about Millennial experiences at Long Live the Twenties.