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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

with you.”



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

or her.



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.



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.


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 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:



Older children should be shown how to fight with jealousy. It is possible

to speak to them more openly.


  • 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

into two.


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