“But jealous souls will not be answered so.— From Othello, William Shakespeare
They are not ever jealous for the cause,
But jealous for they’re jealous. It is a monster
Begot upon itself, born on itself. (III.iv.)”
Our daughter is a terrific big sister. She loves having a baby brother and enjoys being able to help with him. He lights up around her, and a lot of times, she can make him laugh when nobody else can. Her world changed a lot when he was born, though. The amount of available attention from my wife and me was reduced significantly when he came into the equation. Of course, we knew that this would happen and tried to talk with her about it before he was born, but I don’t think it’s really possible to articulate what things will be like fully. It’s one of those things you have to experience to understand.
I distinctly remember the first time my daughter verbally expressed her frustration about this. “Why does he get all of the attention?” It was heartbreaking to hear that from her because regardless of our efforts to continue to pay attention to her, she felt that she was being neglected. And, unfortunately, her perspective is her reality until proven otherwise.
There are times when the baby needs our attention, but here are five things we are trying to do to help remove that sharp edge of jealousy and help our daughter feel included and important:
- Don’t Blame the Baby – There is a natural tendency to use the baby as an excuse as to why we cannot give our daughter the attention she’s asking for. When we say, “I can’t do that right now, baby needs me,” it also says, “baby’s needs are more important than yours right now” – even if those words aren’t spoken. This creates a subconscious me vs. him situation in our daughter’s mind, so we have to find ways to reframe that conversation that doesn’t make the baby why we can’t give her what she’s asking for when she’s asking for it.
- Include Her in the Solution – One of the ways to avoid blaming the baby and still pay attention to her, when possible, is to share the responsibility with her. “I’d really love to play that game with you, but right now, I have to feed the baby. Could you play with him while I get his food ready? Maybe afterward, we can all play together!”
- Create On-Purpose Time Just For Her – This actually started as a way to give my wife a break but has translated well into diverting feelings of jealousy as my daughter has gotten older. I will plan little outings from time to time, and my daughter and I will go on what we call “secret adventures.” Anything can be a secret adventure: a trip to the park, grocery shopping, going to get ice cream, or just about anything else. The key is to make sure that my daughter understands that it is a special time just for the two of us that we’ll spend together. While we’re out, we will spend time talking about whatever she wants to talk about, and I’ll do all I can to show her that she’s important and loved.
- Encourage Positive Sibling Bonding – There’s an age gap of a bit over 4 years for our kids, but they get along really well. Our son sometimes plays a little bit rougher than our daughter would like, but they like being around each other for the most part. In addition to giving our daughter dedicated attention separate from the baby, we also want to give plenty of time for the two of them to be involved in the same activities and shared experiences. Jealousy is a lot less of a factor when she does something that she wants to do with someone she wants to do it with.
- Acknowledge & Discuss Her Big Feelings – We’re consciously doing things to avoid putting our daughter in situations that will make her feel jealous of her brother, but it sometimes happens anyway. We have to avoid feeling defensive and dismissing her feelings as unjustified and give her space to feel the way she feels. “It seems like you’re feeling jealous of the amount of attention your brother is getting. Is that right?” We need to listen to her response, let her know that we understand how she feels, and give her space to explore how to cope with them.
Do you have any additional ideas about how to deal with kids that are feeling jealous? Post in the comments below or hop into our Discord server to talk with the community about it!