My 5-year-old daughter is extremely jealous of her two-year-old brother. If he sits on my knee she will not sit with him but goes in the corner and pouts. If he’s playing with a toy, she will grab it from him or if he has a blanket she will rip it away from him and send him flying. How can I handle this?
Jealousy is really normal when someone has been an only child and a sibling comes along. Little Susie has been the center of everyone’s attention, the cute little one, and suddenly her place has been taken by her baby brother, who is too young to play with her but can steal adult attention without any effort. To understand how she feels, imagine your husband (or wife) brought home a new younger wife (or husband), and told you to help look after her, let her use your personal possessions, and share his time with her. He might explain that because she’s younger she needs special attention, but it won’t take away from your resentment and feeling that you’ve been replaced.
It takes patience and understanding to accept a child’s jealousy of their sibling while forbidding cruel behaviors. First and foremost, it helps to understand how the older child feels when she has been replaced as the youngest and most special family member. You can acknowledge these feelings in words “It’s hard for you when he gets all the attention.” You can give her special attention to make up for what she loses from other people. Sometimes this may involve allowing her some privileges as though she were younger than she is, just so she won’t feel left out. You can tell her how she was treated when she was her brother’s age. Emphasize that you love her just as much as you love him, and point out the special privileges she has because she’s older.
Make sure that your daughter gets some 1:1 time with you if it’s at all possible, since this is one of the biggest losses for a child when a younger sibling comes along. Hopefully there is another parent or grandparent who can look after the little brother so you and your daughter can have this time. Tell your daughter that if she wants some special time with you, she can ask for it, and you will find a time for just the two of you, without him present. Then when you’re having 1:1 time with her brother, point out that she gets her special time too.
At the same time you need to set limits on some behavior. Let her know it isn’t okay to hit or pinch her brother or to grab his toys or blanket. But don’t spend time scolding or punishing. If she hits or pinches him, comfort him and ask her how she would feel if an older kid hit or pinched her. Tell her we don’t do to other people what we don’t want people doing to us.
This is the time to teach about private property by giving some to each child. “You can keep the toys you don’t want him to touch over here, out of his reach. And you need to leave his blanket alone, because it’s his, just like your special truck is yours. He can’t touch your truck, and you can’t touch his blanket.”
As your children grow up, you need to coach each child on how to resolve their conflicts at each age. If you’re able to do this well, you’ll find that by the time they reach their late teens they’ll be the best of friends. Recently when my younger son got married, his older brother gave a speech about him which brought tears to everyone’s eyes, saying how important his brother was in his life. I as so thankful when I remembered how they used to fight from the time the younger one was two. They have overcome their jealousy and become the best of friends. Hopefully your children will be able to do likewise.