Jealousy is a natural emotion, but it’s also an unhealthy one. According to therapists at Psych Central, insecurity leads to envy, which then turns into jealousy, and may end in shame. In fact, these four primal emotions often overlap. Sometimes a fifth emotion is involved: anger. You may still struggle with this in adulthood, causing you to wonder how to teach your child to not be jealous. While that may ultimately prove impossible, you can teach children how to self-regulate this emotion.
Have Honest Conversations
Dr. Sharon Saline has three decades of academic and clinical experience working with families. She tells Parentology most children understand the basic concepts of fairness, comparisons and satisfaction. When parents can talk about jealousy in terms that kids can relate to, they’re more likely to grasp it.
She advises, “First, it’s important to take stock of your own feelings on the subject, be they positive or negative, passionate or blasé. Many adults struggle with jealousy and their kids are picking up nuances in their voices or negativity in the comments. Try to set these aside so you can present information and let them come to their own conclusions.”
Help Children Find Their Strengths
Praise without substance often creates entitled children who grow into equally entitled adults. This doesn’t mean parents should abandon developing a child’s sense of pride altogether. The more reasons a child has to feel accomplished or happy with themselves, the fewer reasons they have for developing feelings of insecurity and envy.
Dr. Virginia Boga, an adolescent psychologist practicing in New York, tells Parentology, “In order to help your child to not be jealous, parents need to be aware of their child’s needs. The more you can help in developing your child’s ego, the less likely they’ll be jealous.”
So what does this mean? “The more you can make your child feel important and help them have a sense of control in their own lives the less likely they [are to become] jealous,” Boga says.
Focus on Gratitude
Dr. Courtney Bolton suggests most children have plenty of reasons to feel content. They just may spend too much time looking outward. She believes by practicing gratitude, children can learn to appreciate what they have and celebrate their own successes.
She explains, “We know from research that keeping a gratitude journal daily can help us feel more content and fulfilled. Even highlighting the wins for the day, or having your child note what he or she worked hard at or was proud of for the day, can fill them with a sense of accomplishment. Focusing our children on doing things that fill them up rather than what they need from others will help reduce jealousy.”
The Bottom Line
Bolton reminds parents it’s natural to experience fleeting moments of envy or jealousy. The key is not to dwell on the feeling, but rather to overcome it. She believes that when children — and parents — master this skill, they can feel admiration for another person’s achievements, rather than taint their relationships with intense personal longings.