This topic continues the focus introduced in Guiding Children’s Behaviour - Temper Tantrums of helping children to develop considerate behaviour.

Part I builds on temper tantrums content emphasising again that the well-being and happiness of children is of prime importance but sometimes challenges related to children’s behaviour occur.  As mentioned in the previous topic in order for children to behave in a considerate way, they need to:

  • Develop a sense of right from wrong
  • Learn to regulate their emotions
  • Learn to cooperate with others

This learning takes time to develop.

Parents need to set reasonable limits in relation to children’s behaviour and they need to keep children safe from harming themselves and others.

Part II of this topic continues with the positive approach to parenting and presents strategies on dealing with jealousy.

Jealousy amongst children in family (siblings)

Jealousy is a normal and natural behaviour that occurs with young and older children. Parents cannot always prevent jealousy between children but they can lessen the effects of it by the way parents react to the jealousy behaviour. Although a troubling situation for parents, their behaviour can also reduce the time that an older child feels unhappy and distressed.

More importantly, parents have to be mindful of their day-to-day behaviours when interacting with their children as these could potentially cause jealousy amongst siblings. If such emotions are not dealt with effectively, it may lead to undesirable behaviours in children and subsequent sibling rivalry that could possibly carry over into adulthood, affecting family harmony.

In relation to a new baby in the family, there are some behaviours which may occur in a young child who is experiencing jealousy. Parents need to understand these behaviours and respond in an appropriate way. With young children under 3 years these behaviours can include:

  • Regression in the child’s behaviour. For example, a child who is toilet trained may regress to needing help with toileting or thumb sucking or throwing of tantrums.
  • Attention seeking behaviour – clinging or staying close to the mother (usually) or other family member, becoming whiny. Demanding attention and showing frustration if their demands are not met immediately.

It is also common for the younger children to express thoughts such as wanting to return to the time when they were babies.  In older children, they may become withdrawn – not talking with parents, not wanting to go to school, not wanting to socialise with friends.

As parents, it is important to help your children manage these emotions effectively so that they do not evolve into feelings of injustice, unfairness, and vulnerability, which are more damaging and difficult to cope with.

What causes jealousy?

Often this occurs when there is a new baby in the family. Parents need to be mindful of the fact that if one child has had all the family attention, their world changes dramatically when a new arrival comes along. No longer are they the centre of attention and a new baby can demand a lot of attention particularly from the mother.

Other situations which may lead to jealousy are when there are strong differences in the academic abilities of children in the family. Wanting their children to achieve well is a natural trait in parents, not only in Singapore.  This can happen in the early stages of academic learning, as well as during formal schooling.

In particular, if one child in the family is always succeeding academically and another sibling is not, then it can cause heartache in the child (who is less successful) and lead to feelings of jealously and inferiority. All children are different, be it their temperament, capabilities and interests, even identical twins will be different in many ways so parents need to accept that not all of their children may do equally well in education contexts.

It is inevitable that parents will always have a favourite child or tend to compare their children but when these thoughts are exhibited through their behaviours (such as showing preferential treatment), it could trigger emotions of jealousy in the less favoured child.

How to prevent jealousy amongst siblings?

To prevent jealousy amongst brothers and sisters (siblings), parents should avoid or minimise any situations that may fuel competition or resentment. These include

  • not making comparisons, such as praising one child’s behaviour in relation to their sibling,
  • not using negative labels,
  • preparing a child in advance for a new sibling.

For example, parents should set the expectations of each child based on their individual strengths and weaknesses rather than standards set by the older sibling and refrain from comments like ‘Why can’t you be like your sister/brother?’

No matter how hard a parent tries, there may still be instances where a particular child feels neglected. Parents should make each child feel special and valued for who they are. This can be achieved through

  • spending time one-on-one with each child and choosing an activity based on their interests,
  • focusing on the unique qualities and strengths of each child.

When a child feels affirmed and valued, their sense of security and self-esteem is strengthened and will be less likely to feel jealous.

Parents should try to be fair to every child. When a child is given different privileges due to their age or circumstances (e.g. birthday, illness), parents have to explain their decisions clearly to help the children understand the basis for doing so and not perceive the differences as unfair. In other instances where resources are limited, parents will have to help children learn to share or take turns. By reinforcing cooperative behaviours amongst siblings, parents can help their children build positive relationships with one another.

Most important of all, parents should help their children understand what it means to be a family and that brothers and sisters (siblings) should support and help each other. Parents can be role models in demonstrating that family members ought to take care of one another and encourage their children to do likewise.

Strategies to deal with jealousy will be discussed in Part II of the topic.

Copyright © Marjory Ebbeck and Wendy Toh 2016

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any forms or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Copyright holder.