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Jealousy and the Birth of Other Children

One fable about jealousy sounds like this: A man and a woman had been married for a few years. They each had their roles and ways of relating comfortably in place. It was a loving secure way of life. One day, after they returned home, the husband announced, “Tomorrow I’m bringing home an additional woman who will also be my wife. However, she won’t do any of the cooking or cleaning but we will make over her, enjoy her company and she will get the full benefits of being my wife.”

How do you think the first wife might feel? Such is often the view of older siblings as they greet brothers and sisters who join the family. While an older child might enjoy making over a new arrival, often there are ambivalent (positive and negative) feelings that persist throughout the growing up years.

These feelings of jealousy and rivalry may become power struggles as children grow. Often they are not stated in words but carried out in arguments and taking things from each other. In more extreme situations physical battles and actual fights can be evidence of this jealousy. Each child may strive for significance comparing him or herself to a sibling within a brother-sister relationship.

Early evidence of jealously over a new baby may be a statement by an older sibling such as “take him back”, or hitting or biting the new infant. Older siblings may find other ways to annoy each other or try to outshine each other as they compete for parent approval.

What reduces jealousy feelings? The obvious answer lies in providing secure affectionate attention to each child. Jealousy isn’t just about seeing that you have what I want. Sometimes it involves the older child feeling that a new child is being attended to and they aren’t. For parents we must continue to help each child feel significant, comforted, encouraged, attended to, and special in their own right. Yes, children must be held accountable for misbehavior. But much of the child’s misbehavior will diminish, as they perceive their needs for security are being met.

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