Children learn to share toys, friends, and attention. When these things aren’t being shared to their satisfaction, children can get jealous. This fear of missing out is often compounded by an inherent lack of control, instigating jealousy-induced aggression, bullying, helplessness, and low self-esteem.
Signs of Jealousy
Possessiveness, comparing, and obvious insecurities are common warning signs of underlying jealousy. Children naturally crave attention; one of the easiest ways to get noticed is to behave badly. Situationally, the arrival of a newborn brother or sister tends to arouse clinginess in older siblings, manifesting as constant demands for love and affection from parents.
Parenting Behaviors that Encourage Jealousy
It is natural (and can even be healthy) for us to compare children with other children. This “benchmarking” can guide fathers as our kids approach, meet, and exceed age-appropriate milestones. Unfortunately, if children realize we are comparing them, they can suffer consequences ranging from low self-esteem and low self-confidence to excessive competitiveness and unethical approaches to winning—such as cheating and cutting corners. While healthy and fair competition can be excellent, we should avoid exposing our children to unfair competition—and unhealthy jealousy.
Parents who tend to coddle and shield children from age-appropriate real-life consequences may not realize it but—as these children get older—they may feel disillusioned or even lost. If they encounter other children who are either more self-confident or better equipped, they might develop jealous feelings due to their comparative sense of inadequacy.
Overly strict and controlling parents can provoke resentment and jealousy when they don’t give children the dignity to share the “why” behind certain rules. Even if rules are fair and reasonable, explanations for expectations stimulate mutual respect, leading to a greater likelihood of “buy-in,” especially if their friend down the street is being raised with fewer rules.
Helping Children Overcome Jealousy
Jealousy occurs naturally, especially in young children. By actively and attentively listening to their fears, concerns, and worries, we become better equipped to share insights and inspiration to redirect jealous thoughts toward optimism and self-confidence. Rather than harboring jealousy or ill-will against someone, encourage kids to find a place of genuine appreciation and happiness for the other person. Impart on them that success doesn’t come from hope, but from committing our minds and hearts to the process of dedicating time and effort to studying, training, and learning to improve our skills.
Remind children that we all have different gifts and special offerings. Being the very best at “that one thing” has nothing to do with being excellent at something else. Exercise caution with comparisons; while they can offer validation, they can also invalidate. If our children don’t excel in sports or academics, think of any of their amazing personality traits—and praise them accordingly. Kindness, teamwork, and leadership are three of hundreds of examples. Rather than comparing, remind them that everyone is unique and that we should focus on being the best version of ourselves. The only real competition is found within; consider who we were yesterday, who we are today, and who we are becoming tomorrow.
True appreciation for the achievements of others leads to better self-esteem. This may be especially difficult with opponents and rivals, but if we forbid ourselves from harboring negativity, we may find ways to appreciate the success of others and might even make friends in the process. By rejecting envy, we can repurpose jealousy into inspiration.
Sometimes, children are so desperate to be liked and appreciated that they try too hard. By sharing insights and having higher-level discussions about self-confidence and social awareness, we can help children avoid the vicious self-fulfilling prophecies of desperation and fear of missing out. Self-confident children are more attractive as playdates, especially when they engage in activities that THEY enjoy.
Signs of jealousy might indicate that children are dealing with a difficult emotional situation. Gentle compassion can help start a conversation to bring healing. By listening to their concerns and understanding their perspective, we can help them learn ways to manage their feelings.
Try giving jealousy an actual name—maybe Jealous Jane or Jealous Joe. When it rears its ugly head, calling jealousy a funny name can help children separate jealousy from themselves and recognize it as an uncomfortable and fleeting emotion.
If one child wants a toy that another child is playing with, fathers can coach and set expectations. Tell the child who wants the toy to ask if they can have it in five minutes. Encouragement may be needed as the toy-holding child MUST agree to share in five minutes, and then share the toy with the other child as promised. This approach will not only help children become less possessive of toys, but they’ll be also less inclined to take and more inclined to share.
Be mindful of inauthentic praise. We love and adore our children; it is important to compliment them for their hard work and effort. However, when children who are not especially good at something are also constantly hearing how amazing they are, they may develop feelings of inadequacy—the exact opposite of the self-confidence we hope to instill in them. While our children should feel that they are capable of anything, they should also realize that they need skills to be successful.
It’s important to teach children to better understand the reasons for and implications of jealousy so they can better manage this powerful emotion. The tips above can help fathers corral and redirect children’s jealousy in positive ways to help them overcome angst and instead, be inspired.
“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”
—Proverbs 14:30 NIV
Elmore Green starts life as an only child, as many children do. He has a room to himself, where he can line up his precious things and nobody will move them one inch. But one day everything changes. When the new small person comes along, it seems that everybody might like it a bit more than they like Elmore Green. And when the small person knocks over Elmore’s things and even licks his jelly-bean collection, Elmore’s parents say that he can’t be angry because the small person is only small. Elmore wants the small person to go back to wherever it came from. Then, one night, everything changes…
Through honest conversations and open-mindedness, Sophia, Camila, Christabel, and Jewel soon learn that it’s okay for friends to have other friends, and not everyone needs to like to do the same things all of the time. If they are kind and respectful toward one another, their friendships can grow and change.
Just like a pirate using a spyglass, kids may focus in on one thing that they want, and not notice all the good things they already have. If you’re a kid who thinks “it’s not fair,” this book is for you! Kids may focus in on one thing that they want, and not notice all the good things they already have. This interactive self-help book is the complete resource for educating, motivating, and empowering children to cope with envy.
We often feel jealous because we fear losing the things or people that matter to us the most. The Jealousy Cure offers proven-effective skills to keep jealousy in its place. You will learn that confronting jealousy in your relationship does not have to be a catastrophe, but can redirect you and your partner to build more trust, acceptance, and connection.
PLEASE NOTE: As an Amazon Associate, Fathers Truly Matter earns from qualifying purchases. The information in this post should not be construed as providing specific psychiatric, psychological, or medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand the lives and health of themselves and their children. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist.