Sunday 18 August 2019

My 11-year-old is so jealous of her little sister it's causing us havoc

My eldest daughter is 11. She has a younger brother aged nine and a four-year-old sister too. I think she suffers from jealousy. Her little sister is the focus of her wrath. She encourages her younger brother to join in the meanness but luckily his heart isn’t in it.

Her dad tries to put manners on her (he is very firm with her) but it only leads to more rows and misbehaviour. Mealtimes, morning times — any time we have to be somewhere are all a disaster. The whole house ends up in a heap. What could I do with my daughter to stop her being so jealous of her sister?

David Coleman replies: The issue of your house ending up "in a heap" may not just be about your daughter's jealousy. It may also be about how you and her dad are responding to that jealousy.

But, let's start with your hypothesis that jealousy is the root of her behaviour towards her sister. You describe that she gets very angry towards her sister and is mean to her.

If so, then she may be like many eldest children. She probably feels that her little sister is more favoured and more loved than she is.

This may have started when her sister was born and was treated, naturally, as the little baby of the family, garnering lots of love and attention from everyone.

Your eldest daughter may have felt like she was losing out from all the focus on the little baby. It is hard for children to explain feelings of jealousy to parents, as most parents don't want to accept such feelings.

Invariably, parents end up either protective of the other sibling or cross with the jealous child for being so petty and not being open-hearted to their sibling.

So, if they don't feel they can tell a parent, most children try to show their displeasure and jealousy by taking it out, angrily or meanly, on their sibling. Subconsciously they may be trying to punish their little brother or sister for taking away their parents' love, attention or approval.

It is as if they blame their sibling for they, themselves, being out of favour with their parents.

It is easy to see how this can set up a negative spiral of interaction. The more cross they are with their sibling the more they get given out to by their parent; the more they get given out to, the more they may blame their sibling and the crosser, or meaner, they may become.

I am struck by your phrasing "her dad tries to put manners on her (he is very firm with her)". This suggests to me that her dad is quite authoritarian in his approach.

I wonder if he relies on lots of consequences or punishments to try to discipline her when he sees her behaviour is bold?

If so, it is no wonder that his efforts to discipline her just lead to more rows and more misbehaviour, in line with the negative spiral that I have just outlined.

I'd imagine you and her dad giving out to her, or punishing her, probably exacerbates her jealousy. She probably views this as further evidence that you love her sister more than her. In her mind this may lead to her being mean to her sister in return.

So, rather than continuing to pursue strict discipline with your oldest daughter, I would suggest you try a whole different approach and try to understand her rather than punish her.

I'd recommend you go with your gut instinct about jealousy being at the root of her misbehaviour. Talk to her, openly, about her feelings about her sister, giving her both permission and opportunity to say how she really feels.

I once read a great explanation of how it can help children to express some of their bad or negative feelings. That explanation was simply that; "until the bad feelings come out, the good ones can't get in".

While this is a simplification, it does describe how children need to have a safe platform to express the 'bad' or dark thoughts and feelings they may have. Then with more emotional space available they can acknowledge the good feelings that otherwise get ignored.

Your daughter needs to know that she is allowed to give out about her sister, to you and her dad, without repercussion.

I think you may find that if she knows you understand things, better, from her perspective, that she won't need to keep acting meanly and angrily towards her sister, meaning you will see much less misbehaviour from her.

My eldest daughter is 11. She has a younger brother aged nine and a four-year-old sister too. I think she suffers from jealousy. Her little sister is the focus of her wrath. She encourages her younger brother to join in the meanness but luckily his heart isn't in it.

Her dad tries to put manners on her (he is very firm with her) but it only leads to more rows and misbehaviour. Mealtimes, morning times - any time we have to be somewhere are all a disaster. The whole house ends up in a heap. What could I do with my daughter to stop her being so jealous of her sister?

Health & Living

Editors Choice

Also in Life