Part 1 of this topic introduced parents to some background information about jealousy amongst children in the family (siblings) and some strategies on preventing jealousy.

Part II provides further information on this topic and the positive approach to parenting continues, giving parents more strategies on dealing with jealousy.

When your child is jealous

Here are some strategies to consider:

As mentioned in Part I of this topic, feeling jealous about a new member of the family, or because they are compared unfavourably with other siblings will cause much unhappiness in the affected child. Ignoring the behaviours and hoping that these will go away is not the answer for parents. Some changes need to happen.

Also, in order to understand certain things that happen in the family, children need some level of understanding, that is, thinking ability and they also need to know right from wrong.

In the case of a new baby, parents have to understand that this can be a difficult time for the older child, regardless of their age. They will have to adapt to the changes, such as sharing their mother for the first time or having another person to take them to school. If the parents focus on taking care of the new baby, the older child may feel left out and become jealous of the baby.

The world of a child does change dramatically when a new baby arrives, especially if they have been the only child and centre of all attention.

Before baby’s arrival, parents can consider the following:

  • Explain to your child in advance that there will be some changes in the family and assure them that although some things will change (e.g. the time you have for them), you love them all the same.
  • Include your child in the preparations. If possible include them in some aspects of the medical checks, listening to the baby’s heartbeat, looking at the ultra-sound videos or images. Give them the chance to feel the baby kicking or bring them along when shopping for baby items.
  • Share with your older child about the time when they were a baby while going through their baby photos. For younger children, use picture books to prepare them for the new sibling. Talk about how a newborn cries a lot and requires a lot of care (e.g. feeding, diaper changing).
  • Encourage the older child to take on the role of big brother/sister and help care for the baby.
  • Make arrangements so that the new baby’s arrival lessens the changes in the life of older children. If there is a need to change an older child’s sleeping or care arrangement (e.g. starting new childcare), give them ample time to adjust to it before the baby arrives. Avoid other major changes (e.g. weaning, toilet training) for your older child around the time of baby’s arrival.

After baby’s arrival, parents can consider the following:

  • Bring your child to the hospital to visit the newborn. If possible, cuddle your older child to give them assurance while introducing the new baby.
  • With older children, involve them in helping to care for the baby. Ask them to help with tasks which they can handle (e.g. fetching diapers), but do not pressure them to help if not willing to. By getting them involved, they are less likely to feel left out or replaced.
  • Help your child to interact with the baby (e.g. being careful and gentle with the baby).
  • Make sure that they get individual attention when the new baby arrives. Try to spend some time alone with them regularly (e.g. when the baby is sleeping).
  • Avoid using the baby as the reason when you need to decline the older child’s request. (E.g. ‘We can’t go to the playground because baby is sleeping.’)
  • Teach your child to learn to wait as they are able to do things on their own.

Parents should understand that young children can in some instances squeeze or hit a new baby. They will not understand the outcomes of this but be watchful if a toddler or pre-schooler shows aggressive behaviour towards the baby. Do not ignore unacceptable behaviour or react with anger. Discuss it; affirm your love for the child but not for bad behaviour.

Some titles to consider when preparing your child for a new sibling:

  • Bella’s New Baby by Sue Fliess
  • Za-Za's Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins
  • My New Baby (board book) by Rachel Fuller
  • Sunita's Baby Sister by Nicola Call & Sally Featherstone

Sometimes, the younger child can be the one getting jealous while the parent is spending time with the older child (e.g. storybook reading).  Try to keep the young one involved by having them seated beside you with their book, so that they do not fight for your attention.

To help children deal with emotions of jealousy, parents can consider the following:

  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings and reassure them of your love. Do not brush aside negative emotions. (E.g. ‘You’re disappointed that I can’t play with you now as I have to feed the baby. Do you want to come and sit by my side?’)
  • Talk through the emotions with your child, share your own experience and help them understand that they can choose not to feel jealous by taking control of their thoughts.
  • Downplay whatever is making your child jealous, remind them that you will make time to be with them. (E.g. ‘Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be home with you when your sister goes to school.’)
  • Help your child channel any negative emotions elsewhere (e.g. through drawing, writing) and better express their emotions or concerns. (E.g. ‘Can you tell your brother how you feel and what you wish he would have done?’)
  • Provide a view of their sibling that may not be obvious to your child. (E.g. ‘Your sister does not want to share because you are still too young to play with the toy.’)

Closing comments

For other forms of jealousy such as sibling competitiveness, parents should take this seriously as it can have long term adverse effects, even into adulthood.

Never compare unfavourably one child with another, this is very unfair. Such comparing can be very unhelpful and fuel jealousy rather than increase understanding and affection between siblings.

As a parent, one needs to model the kind of behaviour you hope to see in your child. Taking time to listen to your children, to allay their fears can have very positive outcomes.

Copyright © Marjory Ebbeck and Wendy Toh 2016

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