Emergency Attitude

Focus on the one specific issue or individual who seems to get your kid's jealous streak boiling most.What turns your kid's eyes the greenest?

□ Appearance: hair, weight, height?

□ Abilities: musical talent, grades, athletic skills?

□ Material possessions: cell, Barbie dolls, CD collection?

□ Peers: being included or even invited?

Pick one at a time only, and then find the true source of the issue. If it's an authentic need to be more competitive, then help your child do better at whatever it is. If it's math and you can help, spend some serious time going over her homework and preparing her for tests. If she is lagging behind her teammates on the soccer field, buff up her endurance by going on a run with her every night. If you feel for any reason that you're unable to do this, then find a way to bring in outside help. If her jealousy is an unrealistic feeling based on insecurity, for attention or approval, materialistic greed, or lack of confidence, then address that issue on a more personal level. For example, if you just had a new baby, find more time to do things together; if he is too shy to make new friends, then coach him in social skills to overcome his shyness. Pick the worst aspect of your child's jealous attitude, and don't let up until you've found where it comes from and wiped it clean.

Jealous kids always wish they could be, do, or have the success, good fortune, possessions, or qualities of others. Never satisfied with who they are or what they have, they compare themselves to others:"She's smarter.""He's more popular." "They're wealthier.""She's prettier."And each longing to be "more like her" (or "him" or "them") strips a little more of gratitude for what they have, replacing it with resentment and self-centeredness.

There are many reasons kids become "green-eyed," but certainly a big contributor is today's popular culture, which intensely tries to convince kids how they "should look" and what they "must have" to be "popular" and "with it." Envying those peers who meet that tough criterion (at least in a kid's eyes) is bound to be inevitable for those who can't meet the standards.And today's advertisers take advantage of preadolescents' insecurities. Marketers spend billions on kid-directed commercials of "must-have" fashions, electronic gadgets, and toys. Oh, the envy if a kid gets one of those coveted items and they don't.

Then there are all those music videos, TV shows, films, magazines, and billboards constantly pushing the supposed ideal physical benchmark to our kids.The image for girls is super-thin (with no trace of body fat), a perfectly proportioned figure, flawless skin, and long, flowing hair. For guys, it is being tall, having a well-built muscular physique, and displaying a macho swagger and attitude. And, oh, the pain of being a kid and trying to fit in: for some, the only way to measure up is by wishing to be someone else.

Of course, misguided parenting also turns kids' eyes a darker emerald shade. For example, these days, fierce contests to see whose precious offspring can stockpile the most trophies (for higher grades, game scores, beauty competitions, school admissions) also fuel peer resentment big time. After all, in any contest, one kid always comes out "the winner" (kid translation: "He's better.""She's prettier.""He's smarter."), leaving others in the dust wishing they could have the same qualities. High hopes for our kids' success also ignite envy: "Why can't you get grades like Chelsea?""Try kicking like Kevin. He scores."

And don't ever forget that our own jealous desires are picked up by kids' radar: "How did the Levys afford that Lexus?""Sally looks so good—it must be Botox.""Jim and Carol are invited to everything." Hmmm.

So where is this coming from? Are kids with jealous attitudes just victims of the Big Brat Factor, the culture, the media, the peer group? Not necessarily. Many kids are expressing jealous attitudes because they're desperate for attention and appreciation.They may be feeling especially insecure, inadequate, or unable to live up to family or peer standards and expectations.You may need to read between the lines of their jealous words to find the true scared, lonely self hiding behind the envy and craving.

Of course, jealousy doesn't just pit peer against peer, classmate against classmate, and neighbor against neighbor; it invades our homes as well. Most parents would agree that one of the most frustrating forms of jealousy is sibling rivalry. Much as we try to make our kids feel loved, they accuse us of showing favoritism: "You love him more than me!" If not curtailed, those early envious sibling feelings can slowly damage family relationships and remain forever. It's just all the more reason we need to curb our kids'jealous attitudes, and the sooner the better. After all, envy wasn't named one of the Seven Deadly Sins for nothing. This sin damages our kids' moral growth, self-esteem, social relationships, and family harmony. It must be replaced by the virtues of thankfulness, trust, and forgiveness. So get moving on this makeover!

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