Just like adults, children can experience and act out feelings of jealousy that can often be painful for them and other family members. Often parents' first reaction is to scold or shame the child, but this often makes the situation worse. Helping a child deal effectively with jealousy at a young age can help him deal with similar feelings he may experience in adulthood.
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Children experience jealousy for a number of reasons, involving everything from a new baby to their mother's new boyfriend to good old sibling rivalry. Some children have a more jealous nature than others and will be prone to comparing what she receives--material things, attention from parents, good grades--to what her sibling receives. In the case of a new baby, the child that was once the baby of the family now feels replaced, ignored or unloved, and feels jealous toward the new baby, who is receiving all the attention. Some children can become very attached to their parents and feel threatened when a new friend or romantic partner enters their mother's or father's life.
Jealousy in children manifests itself in a range of bad behaviors. Children experiencing sibling rivalry may become aggressive and handle a new baby roughly -- both of which are normal behaviors in younger children, says Barton D. Schmitt, MD, pediatric advisor writing for the Children's Health Network website. Other children may act "naughty," doing things they know will make you angry on purpose to get your attention. Some children may become overly affectionate toward the object of their jealousy, making everything about the new baby, for example. Overt affection such as this is just another coping mechanism for the emotions the child is feeling. Lastly, a child may turn inward to deal with his jealousy, becoming "mopey" and detached.
Dealing With Jealousy
Children shouldn't be punished for having feelings of jealousy; jealousy is a natural human emotion that all individuals experience. Rather, they should be taught to deal effectively with the emotion and to handle situations that cause them to feel jealous. There are also things that parents can do to alleviate jealousy between siblings or between a child and a new member of the household, including treating each child as an individual rather than as equals, avoiding comparisons between children and spending special time alone with the jealous child without other siblings or household members.
Learning From Jealousy
Children will continue to experience jealousy throughout their lives if they do not learn to properly cope with the feelings and if they suffer from feelings of inadequacy or low self-worth--feelings that are often developed in childhood and carried into adulthood. Jealousy in children can be viewed as a positive opportunity to teach children about coping with these feelings. These childhood lessons, if properly taught, can help the child lead a happier and more stable life as an adult in a world where competition is rampant.
Getting Professional Help
In some cases, professional help from a family or child psychologist can be helpful if your attempts to solve the problem at home have not been successful. Psychologists who specialize in children and family dynamics will be adept at understanding and finding creative solutions to your child's difficulties and can offer you ways of coping at home that can lessen or even end your child's bad behavior due to jealousy.