Jealousy in Families with Multiple Children
Jealousy among children in the family has ancient and tragic traditions.
It flashes when parents prefer one child to others, although it happens
involuntarily. Children like to read and to listen to the stories about
jealousy, punishment and revenge. It is interesting that their sympathies
are not on the side of the “victim.”
Not a very happy event
In contrast to their parents, children do not know how jealousy develops.
They do, however, know how jealousy feels. No matter how skillfully they
are prepared to meet a new member of the family, appearance of a new brother
or sister always leads to new sufferings and jealousy. Is there any explanation
available to reconcile the jealous child at the appearance of a new child?
Jealousy, envy, or rivalry of any type will be a real torment for the
The birth of a brother or sister is a paramount crisis in the life of
a child. His or her “orbit” changes and it is necessary to
help him or her weather the changes. Each parent should know their child
and his or her feelings in order to help him or her along the way.
When telling a child about the event, it is best to avoid long explanations
-- and don’t give false impressions. For example: “We love
you so much! You are a very good boy so your dad and I have decided to
have another son the same as you are. You will also love him. He will
be your brother. You’ll be proud of him. And he will always play
This explanation isn’t so earnest and persuasive. From his parents’
words, the child will most likely form different conclusion: ”If
they really loved me, they wouldn’t have decided to give birth to
another child. I am probably disliked by them and that’s why they
want to change me for another child.”
It is a very bitter experience to share a mother’s love. From his
or her own experience, the child knows “share” means to get
“less” (for example, when sharing an apple or a piece of bubble-gum).
“Sharing” of the mother in every form isn’t to a child’s
liking, and we are expecting that he or she will be pleased by it! Alas,
it happens on the contrary.
A new member of the family
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The information about the birth of a younger child is possible to be
said without special solemnity. It is enough to say, “we are going
to have another baby.” No matter what the immediate reaction of
the child has been, we know that he or she has a lot of unasked questions
and painful doubts. We should help him or her to cope with this crisis,
to overcome this sincere experience which is likely difficult for him
The appearance of a younger child is a threat to the calmness of an elder
child. However, we as parents can decrease the level of the “pressure”
of this unpleasant news on the spirit of the child. Everything depends
on our desire and skill. The following is an example when the news about
the birth of a second child made a really destructive action in the life
of a family (this is the recollection of a grown-up about his childhood).
”When Johny was born, my father made me approach his bed to look
at him. And, even today, I remember this red- faced child on my mother’s
arms and could hear my father saying to me, ‘Now you have to behave
in the best way and help us, because you have the brother. You are not
the only child. Now there always will be two of you; earlier you were
alone, but now there are two of you.’ After that, I devoted my life
to being better than my brother at everything in order to turn his life
into a real hell.”
On the contrary, the following example shows how parents should prepare
the appearance of the new family member by using a story.
“When 5-year-old Vera learned that her mother was going to have
a child, she was extremely happy. In the conversation with her mother,
she drew an ideal picture of life with her brother. But the mother did
not praise such a narrow view on the future. Instead she said, ‘Your
brother won’t bring only happiness to us, but will demand care.
He will cry, disturb everybody, and bore you. We will have to wash his
wet and dirty diapers often, we will have to feed him, dress him, and
look after him. You may think that I forgot about you and you may feel
jealous of your. It will seem to you that I love only your brother and
don’t love you anymore. If such thoughts appear in your head, please
tell me about it. You’ll see that I love you the same amount as
your brother and you won’t have to worry about it. You will understand
that I love you.’”
Some parents don’t like to speak with a child in a manner that
might seem unbelievable. It is necessary to notice that it is not news
for the child. Our words will be useful: they will show understanding
of the child’s feelings. The child will trust his parents and speak <---newpage--->
to them openly.
Attributes of jealousy
If children suppress the feeling of jealousy, it usually re-appears
as bad behavior. For example, a child is jealous of a younger brother,
but is punished for speaking about his “bad” feelings. He
even has a dream where he throws his brother from the tenth floor of a
building. He wakes-up crying, and runs to the bed to check his younger
brother’s presence there. The parents, having seen this, understand
the child’s feelings as the expression of tender love when it is
really just a kind of simplification (the dream appeared to be just a
In nightmares, children often express the things they are afraid to say
in words. It’s better to let them tell their parents about their
jealousy or rage than it is to allow it to lead it up to nightmares.
Soon after the birth of his sister, 5-year-old Valera began to suffer
from strange attacks: he coughed hoarsely and choked frequently. Valera’s
parents took him to the doctor, but the doctor could not find the basis
of these attacks. Later, it turned out that jealousy was the main reason
behind it. Valera had to learn to express his feelings in the form of
words in order to stop the asthma attacks.
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Some children show jealousy in the form of coughing or skin reactions.
Others urinate in their beds, showing their protest. Still others bite
their nails and scratch. There are also children who become destructive.
All these children have to learn to express their feelings -- not indirectly,
but in the form of words that can be easily understood by the people around
Jealousy is varied
It is necessary for parents to accept that their children are jealous,
even if it is not vivid. Jealousy is varied: it hides in the most sudden
reactions and acts. It may be shown in constant competitions between children
or in absence of any desire to compete, in necessity in everything to
be the first or in unrepresented modesty, in reckless generosity or in
improbable greed. Bitter results of unsolved childhood rivalries often
influence adult life.
Along with being overly-competitive, the consequences of childhood rivalries
include the refusal to resist life’s failures, the refusal to face
life’s difficulties, and the refusal to fight for realization of
personal rights. The rivalry between children in the family, therefore,
influences the development of personal qualities more then the grown-ups
Sources of jealousy
Jealousy originates from the child’s wish to be the only beloved
child of his mother. He or she doesn’t want, and can’t stand,
any contenders. If, within the family, one other child (or several of
them) appears, the struggle for mother’s love usually begins. This
rivalry may be latent or obvious -- it depends upon parents’ attitude
towards the problem of jealousy.
Sometimes parents get angry over any display of rivalry, so they punish
their children strictly for it. In some families, parents try not to give
any reason for jealousy. They persuade their children that there is enough
love for everybody and that’s why it isn’t worth being jealous.
Praise, presents, kisses, new clothes, and delicious dishes are distributed
It’s a pity that neither this nor that method can solve the problem
of jealousy: every child wants to be loved more in comparison to others.
As it is impossible to realize this wish, so it is impossible to solve
this problem to the fullest extent. But we, as adults, are responsible
for the fire of jealousy whether it will decay quietly or burn to the
In other equal conditions, children’s jealousy and envy can be
caused by differences in age and differences between sexes. The eldest
brother is envied because he has a lot of privileges and independence.
The youngest is envied because the parents give him more attention. Sisters
are envied by their brothers because they have more freedom for acting.
Brothers envy sisters because are given more attention.
The danger appears when parents, being guided by their own sympathies,
underline the difference of sexes and age. When a father or a mother prefers
a helpless child to an independent elder son (or vise versa) the feeling
of jealousy increases. The same happens if a child is more appreciated
for his beauty, sex, wit, musical ability or social skills.
We don’t suggest that parents treat older children and younger
children the same way. On the contrary, the older a child is, the more
privileges he or she has and the more responsibility he or she should
take for his or her actions. For example, the eldest son should have more
pocket money, more freedom in the choice of friends, and should be able
to have a later bed-time. Parents should give these privileges to their
children openly so that children aspire to achieve them with age.
Younger children often envy older children. We should help them to cope
with their feelings, but not by explaining facts. It is only necessary
to express our understanding of these feelings.
- Of course you would like to go to bed later.
- You would like to grow up quicker.
- You think, ďItís better if I were nine instead of my six yearsĒ.
- I understand everything, but itís high time for you to go to bed.
Parents should not strengthen the feeling of jealousy by suggesting that
children bring each other victims:
- The child needs your bed. You can sleep on the sofa.
- Itís a pity that we canít buy new skates for you this year, but the baby is in need of winter clothes.
The danger is that the child doesn’t regret the skates, but feels
a lack of love. It is therefore necessary to say things with love to a
child and with understanding of his or her real feelings.
How to “cure” jealousy
Small children express their jealousy diplomatically: they ask if it
is possible to send the newly born back to hospital. More aggressive children
start doing aggressive actions against babies: pull them while holding
their legs on the floor, pull their arm or legs, beat them, or hurt them
on every occasion.
Parents can’t afford for their children to pursue each other in
such a way. All types of sadistic speeches or actions should be stopped
at once because they are in the same degree harmful for both the harm
producer and his or her victim.
When we see that a three-year-old child hurts his or her small brother,
it is necessary to stop the behavior at once and openly explain the motives
behind such behavior.
- You donít love your brother.
- You are angry with him.
- Show me how you are angry. I will watch.
It is necessary to give the child an appropriate outlet for his or her
Parents should not allow a child to help in choosing a punishment. Our
task as parents is to observe the expression of feelings without showing
him or her our reaction, and to comment on what we see understandingly.
We should not be afraid or surprised of the fury or cruelty of his or
her behavior. It will be better if the anger falls on an appropriate outlet
rather than being poured out on a younger sibling.
Our comments should be brief and clear:
- You are very angry, it is visible!
- When you get angry, tell me -- ok?
With this method it’s easier to cope with jealousy, rather than
relying on any physical punishments or insults.
On the contrary, the following behavior from parents is absolutely undesirable.
When Walter’s mother saw Walter pulling the legs of his small brother,
she burst out crying:
- What are you doing? Do you want to kill him? You want to kill your brother? Donít you understand that he can become an invalid forever? How many times I have told you ďDonít take your brother out of the bed!Ē Donít come up to him! Do you hear? Donít come up!
Older children should be shown how to fight with jealousy. It is possible
to speak to them more openly.
- Itís clear; you donít like your brother.
- You want to be the only child in the family.
- You want me to be only with you.
- You are angry when we are anxious about the child.
- You want me to play with you.
- You got so angry that you hurt your brother. You should not do it. If you feel lonely, tell me about it.
- If you feel lonely, tell me about it. I will spend time with you in order to eliminate your feelings of being forgotten.
Love is unique
There is nothing more frightening then equally measured love. When a
mother can’t give one of the babies a bigger apple or kiss, the
life of the family becomes unbearable. Constant necessity to keep such
balance creates tension, and leads to anger and weariness. As for children
-- they don’t need love in equal proportions! They want love of
their parents to be unique in relation to everyone.
Yes, we love our children differently and there is no need to pretend
that this is not true. We love every child with a unique love, and it
is not worth hiding it. The more we aspire to achieve equality of feelings
towards children, the more attentive they look for the seemed injustice.
Against our desire, we start to defend having heard the children’s
cry, ”It is unjust!”
It is not worth giving in! It is inadmissible to prove to children that
it is not our fault. It is inadmissible to deny their accusations. It
is unnecessary to try to explain this created situation and our attitude
to it. One should not start debating about the “honesty” or
“dishonesty” of our behavior. We, as parents, do not need
to divide our love into “portions” to achieve unattainable
balance and equality.
It is necessary for our children to feel that every child in a family <---newpage--->
is loved through a special, unique love.
When we spend time with children, no matter if it’s several hours
or several minutes, we should devote ourselves fully to them. Let a son
feel that he is your only son, and let a daughter feel that she is your
only daughter. When we walk with one of the children, we should not think
anxiously about the others. It is inadmissible to divide our attention
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