“As children, my sister and I were so jealous of each other,” said Claire, as we sipped our lattes. “I thought my sister was so much more beautiful than me.”
I raised my eyebrow. In my mind how could my friend not have seen her beauty. Claire has a fair complexion, smooth blond hair and neat features, and she has a radiance that makes me smile just thinking about her.
“My sister had dark curly hair, dark, dark eyes. I thought I looked insipid compared to her. I was so envious of her looks. We fought most of our childhood,” she sighed. “Imagine – all those years we could have had a great sibling relationship. It was only when we got to be adults that we talked it through and discovered we were both envious of each other’s looks.”
So many parents despair because of their children’s constant bickering and fighting. Perhaps you are a parent in that situation too, concerned about the sibling rivalry in your home – perhaps you are wondering how to respond to sibling jealousy.
Three Key Aspects to Counteract Sibling Jealousy
1. Create Opportunity to Listen to How Your Children Are Feeling
To stop the fighting we need to think about what might going on underneath the surface that is causing the turmoil. Like adults, children are influenced by the thoughts they dwell on. They are not likely to respond in a kind, compassionate manner when they are thinking:
“She’s prettier than me.”
“He’s better at sport than me.”
“She’s cleverer than me.”
“Mum and Dad love her more than me.”
“Just because she’s the baby, they let her get away with it.”
Very often when anger surfaces there are feelings of fear or disappointment underneath the blanket of the aggressive behaviour. These emotions are fueled by envious, or jealous thoughts. Until we acknowledge and respond to our children’s feelings and thoughts, we are likely to find ourselves dealing with the fallout of sibling rivalry. The thing is, jealous thoughts are like woodborers – if they are ignored, they slowly erode the fabric of the relationship.
“Jealousy and envy distort the truth of what is essential for satisfaction or genuine happiness in life.”
This quote is from Normile and Alley’s book “Overcoming Envy and Jealousy Therapy”
When sibling rivalry erupts your children need you to help them to restore equilibrium. Focus on creating a safe space where your children can process what’s going on for them. To quote Dr Dan Siegel: “Connection calms.”
2. Help your children to think about what their envy might be telling them
Children often feel frustrated, irritable or fearful because they imagine they are at a disadvantage to the other.
Think about the expression we hear kids use – “I’ll get even!”
This statement says so much – when there is sibling rivalry at least one child is not feeling equal to the other.
Perhaps your child’s envy is tied in more with admiration of his sibling than a feeling of resentment.
We can’t stop the envy, but imagine if we could help our children to take ownership of their envy and to turn this around to be a helpful tool. Have you come across the term “frenvy”? It’s a term to describe “friend envy” – that sometimes we envy the character traits or achievements of the very ones we like. When we listen supportively we can help our children figure out what their envy is really about, and it can spur them on: “If she can do it I can too!” We can help them turn the green-eyed monster into a helpful ally – to be the best they can be.
3. Build your children’s self esteem
When there is strong sibling rivalry it is often connected to low self esteem. A key aspect to easing sibling rivalry is to build your children’s self esteem.
“Jealousy and emptiness are related, not twins, but born of the same emptiness within you.” Normile and Alley
To discover practical ways to boost children’s self esteem see 7 Useful Tips On How to Build Self Esteem In Your Child.
Bringing positive change to levels of self esteem and softening the intensity of sibling rivalry is a long steady haul to healthier, happier relationships. And, as parents, our consistency counts.
What are your thoughts? If you have any questions or comments about sibling envy please post them below.