“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.”

Sibling Envy

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.

"creation calms." Dr Dan Siegel

Photos Acknowledgement: © Redbaron | Dreamstime.com

What are your thoughts? If you have any questions or comments about sibling envy please post them below.

 

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Last edited August 04th 2017

“My toddler screams  when her 4 year old sister ‘bugs’ her. What to do?”

It makes sense that when a toddler uses screaming to protest, it can be jarring for you – and especially so if you’re worrying about neighbours being disturbed.
I suspect that this isn’t an easy ‘one day fix’ situation but it’s going to take time to bring the change you need.

So here’s eight tips towards dealing with this challenge.

1. Create in your mind a clear picture of what you DO want instead of this screaming behaviour. It’s obvious that you want ‘calm’ but what does this ‘calm’ look and sound like on a day to day basis?

Try finishing these sentence stems for yourself:

‘I want to feel … ‘ (Find three words to describe how you’d like to feel with your children).

‘I’d like the atmosphere in our home to be …’ (Find three words to describe how you’d like the atmosphere to be).

When you have a clear picture of what you’d like home to be like you’ll have a point of reference to steer towards during the frustrating moments.

2. How we think about any situation is likely to impact how we react or respond. If we’re thinking ‘This is awful’ / ‘I can’t cope.’ / ‘I don’t know what to do.’ – we’re going to add to our own stress levels, which means we’ll be pushing cortisol into our own systems and be less likely to think clearly and create the results we really want.  Remind yourself that this is an opportunity for learning and that you can figure out what’s needed. As one wise grandmother said,’This too shall pass.’ Just knowing this is a phase can help you to stay calmer, and think more clearly about what’s needed.

3. A toddler’s brain is still ‘under construction’. The reasoning  part of her brain that expresses itself through language is not yet adequately formed.  This means that when she’s overwhelmed she’s likely to scream or lash out.  Trying to reason, particularly when she’s upset, won’t work.

4. I’m not saying that letting her scream, or giving her whatever she wants, is the answer. Very often the most helpful course of action is to distract her or to rechannel her energy.

5. We may wonder if it will be helpful to ignore behaviour that bugs us. What matters is that we ‘listen to the behaviour’. What is she trying to express through this behaviour?

Perhaps at different times her behaviour is trying to say:

‘I need a bit of space from my sister.’

‘I want to do this MYSELF. I don’t want my big sister to do it for me. ‘

‘I feel overwhelmed when….’

Reflect on how you might respond to her need if she could express it in words.

6. So what do we do instead?  Firstly try to pre-empt the situation. One tool that helps with this is to keep a brief diary – recording the upsets. Record details like:

What time of day (e.g. early morning, supper time)

What else was happening? What’s the outcome?

Just as a diary can be a useful tool to discover food allergy problems, once you start recognising the pattern, you’ll have a sense of what’s causing the  eruptions. It’s likely you’ll find that the upsets often happen around a transition time – when the family is moving from one activity to another. When you can identify the causes, you’ll be able to figure out  what’s needed.

7. This is not just about your toddler, it’s also about your four year old.  Ask yourself, ‘In what way/s is this working for her?’

‘What might her behaviour be trying to tell me?’   When you’re calm reflect on what her needs might be: perhaps some time alone with you?

8. It could be helpful to involve your four year old in helping you to find solutions to this challenge.  If she feels part of creating a  solution, she’s more likely to co-operate.  See my YouTube clip ‘Power Struggle for more about this.

Other posts you might find interesting:

Have I messed up my kid? 

It’s only a tin can

Toddler Upset – 10 tips to Responsive Parenting 

Parents – be kind to yourselves

Last edited July 04th 2016

How to listen to get my child to talk was a mystery I couldn’t solve when my children were young.  I mean, how to get your child to REALLY talk so you knew what was going on at times when you knew something wasn’t okay for your child.

I remember my own son becoming so upset about nursery school that eventually I let him stay home. Some months later, when he was settled in primary school, we drove past the previous school and he said,

‘Oh, that’s where I used to go to school. I didn’t want to go because they wanted me to be in the Christmas play.’

Here he was telling me exactly what the problem was – but months earlier, nothing I’d tried helped me to find out what was wrong. I just had a child who was so upset that nothing worked when it came to leaving him at school.

What I wish I’d known then was how to connect so he would tell me his story. 

Here’s a coaching tool to unlock communication that I wish I’d known back then.

If you want your child to talk, a key awareness that’s needed is to ‘PARK’.

Whether the issue is bullying, your child unhappy at school, sibling  rivalry or whatever, often as parents we rush in with a PLAN  (i.e. find solutions), instead of ‘PARKing our own story to hear our child’s. So often we try to imagine the problem. We try to do something helpful. We try to offer a solution. But first your child  needs to experience that you’re connecting with  his (or her) perspective.

When your  child senses you don’t ‘get him’, he’s likely to keep up the non-communication barriers. He needs to sense you’re there for him. that you want to hear hist story,

‘Well, of course I’m there for him,’  I would have replied.

What I didn’t realise then was that to really ‘be there for him’ the first thing I need to do is PARK my own agenda.

And as a parent, my agenda was often ‘Fix it.’

We want instant ‘sort it out.’

But some things need time. Some things need to be processed.

Just as the most successsful doctors are those who listen first to you, who hear what you think, what’s concerning you, what you know  is needed – that is what your child needs too.

So PARK your agenda: your desire for a quick fix, your desire to try to reason that he really likes school / that he has lots of friends/ that his sister likes school. None of your  information is likely to be helpful for him, at this point.

PARK your frustration, your worries that you have to make this better.

Put yourself in neutral.

Choose to see your child’s situation with compassion, trying to imagine it from his perspective, and yet without emotionally hooking in.

Imagine if the doctor became upset that he couldn’t ‘fix you’ – you would lose all sense of trust and safety with him.

So PARK everything that’s about you – your desires, your emotions, your solutions.

Choose to put that all aside and just be present to your child.

Listen without interrupting; without offering solutions.

Show by your body language, by your listening presence, that you are there to hear your child’s story.

What I’m suggesting isn’t easy. It takes time, skill and practice on your part. Here’s another blog about the Koemba approach on how to effectively communicate with your child because a deeper connection is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give your child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last edited October 25th 2015

Managing Anger in the Home

Do you sometimes:

– have angry children to deal with?
– flip the lid yourself?
– wish you knew how to handle stressful situations?
– wish you knew how to successfully resolve conflict in the home?

Then you want to listen to “Managing Anger in the Home” to discover that you CAN manage anger in a way that benefits all family members.

Click here to download the Discussion Questions for this Audio CD. (PDF file)

 

Last edited June 25th 2012