by Becky Udman
TJP Parenting Columnist
Here’s this week’s question:
My husband and I have read many parenting books, and we both agree that siblings do not always need to receive the same things. Just because one child receives a gift doesn’t mean that the other has to have one. Our challenge is letting one child enjoy the limelight without creating resentment in his sibling. How can we do this?
A. Part of a child’s growth and development is to learn how to see and appreciate other people (and the world) without being centered on himself.
For example, if Child A says, “I kicked the ball the farthest in school today”,typically Child B will respond with something like, “Well, I’ve done that lots of times!” Or, “There’s a kid in my class who can kick it even farther!”
Many adults also lack the same ability to be sensitive and empathetic to others. If someone says, “I’ve had a headache all day,” many adults respond by tying it in their own experiences. They’ll answer with something like, “Yeah, I always get headaches when it rains a lot,” rather than, “I’m so sorry. What have you tried to help your headache?”
Therefore, when a child shows resentment, lack of excitement, or lack of compassion towards a sibling, it’s not appropriate for you as a parent to get angry and frustrated at him. Instead, look at the situation as you would any other teaching opportunity.
You don’t get angry or frustrated when, for example, your child has not mastered getting all the shampoo out of his hair without assistance. Instead, you teach him a technique over and over until he can successfully do it himself.
So when one child comes home from soccer with a trophy, or from a party with a goody bag, or is invited to a friend’s house for a sleepover, it’s not necessary to give the other children a bag of candy or invite their friends for a sleepover just so they won’t be jealous!
Instead, there are appropriate ways you can respond to help the children not on the receiving end of the goodies learn to put their feelings in perspective and not feel resentful.
Here are a couple of ways:
1) Be empathetic, without lecturing or moralizing. This sounds something like, “I know it’s hard when your sister is invited to sleep at a friend’s. It would be fun if we could all have sleepovers whenever we wanted.” This is not the time to tell the child that she is acting like a baby by being upset, or that she is self-centered to think she should have what everyone else has.
2) Role-play how your child can express his feelings while also be happy for his sibling by saying things like, “That does look like a yummy candy bag. I remember that green goody bag that you got at Sara’s party. How many lollipops were in it? Do you think that you will be invited to any more birthdays in the next few months?” Or you can say, “You look pretty upset that Jake got that soccer trophy. Do you think that everyone on his team got one? Where do you think he should keep it?”
Some children have a harder time than others handling the disappointment of not getting what gifts and awards their siblings have. By keeping your own frustration in check as parents and empathizing with that child’s feelings, while at the same time showing happiness for the child who has received something special, you can help all your children become compassionate and caring adults!
Mrs. Becky Udman is preschool director of Torah Day School of Dallas (TDSD), a facilitator in the Love & Logic parenting method, director of Camp Kesher, and the mother of 13 (six boys and seven girls, ages infant through 20).