"Why does she have more toys than I do?!"
"Why does he get to stay up later?!"
"How come they get to go on such a great vacation and we never go anywhere?!"
Jealousy is a constant challenge for every parent. When our kids look at what everyone else has, no matter what we give them it's never enough.
Of course we adults are really no different: "How come he has a bigger house than I do?" "Why does she have such gorgeous clothes?"
Jealousy has the power to consume our children's happiness. And, in extreme measures, it can cause actual physical, psychological and spiritual harm.
Thousands of years ago, the sages advised: "Jealousy, desire and honor drive a man from the world." [Ethics of the Fathers, 4:28]
A FUNDAMENTAL ERROR
Feeling jealous stems from a fundamental error in thinking.
Adults and children alike tend to think that we can and should always get what we want. And if we can't, but someone else can: "It's just not fair!"
When Susie sees that her brother Josh got a bigger cookie than she did, "It's just not fair!" If he is allowed to stay up later than she does, "It's just not fair!!" Her error is thinking she should have what he has.
When it comes to our children, we have no trouble explaining this error: "Susie, your brother gets what he needs and you get what you need. And when one of you gets a slightly bigger scoop of ice cream, don't worry about it. The other one will get a bigger scoop another time."
EVERYTHING IS JUST RIGHT
The same rules apply to us grown-ups.
Before we can really help our children deal with their insecurity, envy and jealousy, we must begin the process of mastering our own.
The baker isn't envious of the tailor's wonderful scissors.
Judaism teaches that God gives everyone exactly what he needs. Each soul has a mission, a reason for being here. God equips each of us with whatever we need to fulfill our special purpose. If we don't know what our mission is, the very things we have or don't have may provide us with some clues.
For instance, musical talent points us in one direction; intellectual gifts point us in another. Poverty may push us to accomplish something significant in the business world; compassion may drive us to help others. The gifts, and talents that we possess are the very tools we need to fulfill our purpose. Consequently, what our neighbor has is completely irrelevant. There's no point in comparing, since it has nothing to do with our own purpose.
The baker isn't envious of the tailor's wonderful scissors. Similarly, it's senseless to lust after someone else's wealth, since it can't help us do what we were sent here to do. Even things we are lacking represent the specific challenges we need to develop our unique greatness.
When we instill this fundamental Jewish principle in our children and ourselves, jealousy of others becomes pointless.
- Don't Equalize. When siblings fight over the "size of their piece of pie" don't try to get a ruler and make sure everyone has exactly the same slice! Instead, say something like, "This time his came out a little bigger, another time yours will. It all works out in the end."
- Be careful not to show favoritism. Often a parent relates more to one child than to another for many reasons. Be careful to find the strengths in every one of your children, so that you can genuinely shower each with love and attention. Even if it's hard to like a particular child because of the challenges she presents in her personality, go out of your way to give her positive attention. NEVER compare your child to anyone else as in "Why can't you be quiet like your sister?" or "Why don't you study more like your friend?"
- Treat your children as a unit. In order to reduce competitiveness and jealousy among siblings, refer to them as a group as often as possible. For example, if you have a 6-month-old, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, you can say things like, "How are my little munchkins this morning?" or "How's the team?" This fosters group identification and helps the children see themselves as a unit.
- Hold family meetings. Have the children work together to present "children's issues" in group meetings in addition to their own individual concerns. This again fosters group identification.
- Create a sharing policy. Designate one or two toys as the individual property of each child, but create a policy that all other toys should be shared as general property, no matter how they were acquired. This reduces materialism, possessiveness, acquisitiveness and competition. It emphasizes commonality, sharing, group identification and cooperation.
- Give group praise. For example: "You kids have been so quiet while I've been working. Thanks so much!" Do not praise one child alone in front of others. Instead, praise a child THROUGH his sibling as in "Jason, what a clever brother you have! Do you see how he built that tower?" This way, Jason gets your attention (eye contact, voice and face) while the sibling gets the compliment. Everybody wins and competitiveness is reduced. A direct compliment to the sibling ("What a great tower Jake!") tends to evoke jealousy in the other child. "Look at MY tower Mommy! It's good too!"