Jealousy in kids: When should you worry?

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Is your child often jealous of the latest acquisitions of his peers? Does he whine about the things that he doesn't have? These could be signs of jealousy in kids

dreamstime s 45825822 Jealousy in kids: When should you worry?

Jealousy in kids often starts at home

It’s an ageless story. Your 11-year-old son wants the latest iPad because the other tablet you got for him few months ago is now outdated. And let’s not even begin with your younger daughter. Fashion trends seem to change faster than the new gizmos that flood the market. And she has to keep up.

Earlier, it was pencil boxes, barbie dolls and cricket bats; tomorrow it will be something else. The objects of desire change with time, the emotion remains the same—jealousy.

Jealousy in kids is common. It can set off after seeing something in the market, in advertisements or at school where somebody has a branded shoe or bag. For girls, it is often about clothes.

Explaining things patiently to her six-year-old is often effective for Ursha Chavan, who works for BARC in Mumbai. Once while passing through the slums of Dharavi, she pointed out to the children living there, how people live without many of the things she enjoys and told her about kids who do not have any toys. “For a while, she stopped pestering us for new toys, but some things can get stuck in her head,” says Chavan.

Signs of jealousy in kids

Jealousy often starts at home. A competitive environment at home will breed a competitive edge in your child. You may not give in and buy the expensive game, but if you focus on winning or losing, it will affect your child’s ideas about himself.

Sadia Raval, founder and chief psychologist at Inner Space, a counselling centre that works with children says, “It is important to understand that wanting things that others have has a lot to do with the child’s concept of self. If a child sees something he doesn’t have, it makes him conscious. As a parent, you need to work on the emotions that help children feel better about themselves.”

Signs can be seen when children are in their early school days, though it is at around the age of seven that traits of jealousy become most prominent. Some of them can be:

  • Biting: According to some studies, children can hit, bite and become rough with peers and adults when jealous.
  • Demanding attention: If your little one is asking for extra attention, it is time to take note. Wanting some extra time and seeking help for the little things that he used to do alone earlier are sureshot signs.
  • Sudden change in behaviour: Some children may either resume to rude behaviour or may become extremely affectionate towards the object of their jealousy.

How to tackle jealousy in kids

Raval advises parents to try talking more to the child about his feelings. If the child does not open up much about how he feels, a heavy conversation gives him something to think about. Instead of stubbornly demanding something that one of his friends has, he will at least dwell on ‘what do I think of myself without this object?’.

Experts list out the following points to keep in mind while dealing with your jealous child:

  • Beware of your child’s self-concept and self-esteem
  • Do not push your child to be over-competitive
  • Encourage a healthy approach to winning and losing
  • Don’t compare him to someone else, a peer or even a sibling. They can pick their own role model and comparison will only make matters worse
  • Habits start early and distracting a younger child with an activity or a toy he already has will help
  • Talk to your child when he is in a more receptive mood. Explaining things to him will make him pause and think the next time an urge for new things come up
  • Jealousy is never a single complaint. It can also be expressed through anger and acts such as hitting someone at school. Watch out for these signs.

Raval advises that instead of focussing on their wins, or losses, teach them to do well. “Focus on his strengths. Constant nagging about their weaknesses is never a good idea,” says the counsellor.

Chavan echoes this sentiment saying that this trait comes from us, the parents. “If we keep wanting things, our children will copy us. Therefore, we have to practice control,” she says.

Have schools become a medium of brewing jealousy in kids?

Despite the best efforts at home, external situations can give rise to jealousy. A lot of it comes from schools where kids from different socio-economic backgrounds and value structures study and mingle together. There is also a larger space to compare. There will always be people who have the best of everything and it makes most impressionable minds wonder where they belong.

Earlier, schools helped in checking such imbalances by employing codes of conduct. They kept a certain standard to ensure equality among children coming from different backgrounds. Reena Mathur, mother of a three-year-old, recounts her own school days when no one was allowed to bring anything expensive to school.

“We were even discouraged from wearing expensive watches or bring those fancy pencil boxes. As students, we sometimes felt resentment, but seeing the demands children make today, I realise it was the need of the hour,” she says.

Raval says how children cope with issues of jealousy comes down to self-esteem. “If a child doesn’t want to go to school or to study because others at school have things that he doesn’t, it is completely a self-esteem issue.” Having certain things makes them feel complete and sometimes, children cannot deal with not having something. Parents have to keep in touch with their child’s feelings, both to encourage his self-esteem and to recognise when signs of jealousy need to be checked.

As Chawla puts it, “The more you give in and the more you encourage it, the more difficult it becomes to deal with.” Do you agree mums?

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