Jealousy and Not Sharing

For kids, jealousy is one of the base human emotions that appear when there is more than one child in the family. It is important to understand that jealousy among siblings is a forever and powerful force that is always present. About the only time jealousy disappears from siblings is when the parents are gone or not available for a broad variety of reasons (death, absence, dysfunction, sickness, etc.).

If you don't understand why your first-born child might feel jealous when a new baby comes along, imagine coming home one night to find your wife wrapped in the arms of another man. She says to you, "Oh, darling, you have made me so thrilled with having a husband that I have decided to bring home another husband. I just know you will love him. You can help me take care of him. It will be great fun for you to have another husband; you guys will be the best of friends your whole life." Doesn't sound so good, huh?

First-born children have the most trouble with feeling displaced and jealous of the newcomer. How can you expect a child who has had the undivided attention of his parents to enjoy being bumped from his primary position? The goal is to help your firstborn feel as little jealousy as is reasonably possible. He should be allowed to grow accustomed to this obnoxious object of his parents' affection slowly. Phrases like, "Let's go diaper our baby," are not consistent with what he is thinking. You have brought home a rival, and the less he is forced to cover up his natural competitive feelings the better. The new little baby should be as unheralded as possible while in the presence of your first-born child. He gets nothing from being involved in every diapering, feeding, bathing, or cuddling the baby gets. The new one should not displace him from his bed or disrupt any other routine that he has become comfortable with and accustomed to.

You must remain sensitive to how jealous your first-born child really is. I've worked with many parents who claim that their firstborn is "just thrilled" with their new baby. This is usually because of their own wishes to avoid feeling guilty about bringing a com petitor into the house. An older child may feign adoration and excessive concern about the welfare of the baby. If so, you are getting off easy for now. But it is extremely likely that the jealousy will show up later. This is totally normal. Jealousy between siblings for parental love and attention is a lifelong reality that is better handled if viewed in its accurate light:

□ DON'T REFER TO YOUR ARRIVING second infant as "Our Baby" or any term that implies that your other child should be as excited for the new arrival as you are. More palatable and neutral terms are "New Sister" or "New Brother."

□ NEVER LEAVE A CHILD UNDER age six or seven alone with your new infant. It is always better to err on the side of cautiousness, even if you think your child isn't angry over having to share his time with you.

□ DON'T ASK YOUR OLDEST TO "help" you attend to and focus your love and attention on the new arrival—if he wants to help you, remind yourself that he is doing this so you will praise him and show how much you love him, not because he adores this "thing" that arrived without his approval.

□ OFFER YOUR OLDER CHILD A new doll to practice diapering, feeding, undressing, powdering, and so on. Once your infant is mobile, help your older child find a baby-proof area to keep his special toys and things away from the crawler.

□ NEVER COMPARE YOUR KIDS ONE to another ("Suzy, your brother was able to use the potty by your age"). Don't ever let one child feel that he is being judged in comparison to his brother or sister—not even favorably. If you make a favorable comparison like "You are so much more snuggley than your brother," he'll think, "I knew it, I'm better than he is," or, "I feel sorry for my brother." Neither message promotes sibling harmony.

□ TRY TO MAKE SURE THAT each child has his own identity, sphere of friends, special parent adored talents, and individual separate time for parental attention.

When parents strive to treat all their children equally and evenly, they usually fail miserably. First, your children are not the same; they are unique individuals with different ages, interests, problems, and strengths. Promising yourself or your kids that you will treat them all with equality or "fairness" is a ticket to frustration and failure. Don't get yourself into the fairness trap. If you claim that you intend to treat all your kids identically, your kids will watch you like a hawk to be sure they are receiving their fair share—right down to the length of a hug.

Because of different sexes, different personalities, and different birth orders, you are bound to feel differently about each child. It is impossible to love two people equally or in exactly the same way. It's perfectly normal to have different feelings toward different children. If you find yourself secretly preferring one child over another, take another look at your less favored child, seek out what makes him special, and privately share your wonder and appreciation of those qualities with him.

If one of your children complains that you aren't being "fair," respond with something like, "You are absolutely correct. I can never be equal in how I treat you or your sister because each of you is different and what's good for one of you may not be the best thing for the other." What each child needs to hear in this is, "I totally love and adore you because you are special to me and as your 'good boss' I am going to love and discipline you in ways that will help you the best, regardless of how you think I treat the others."

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