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Jealousy is one of the more unpleasant human characteristics; it is a mixture of resentment, fear, insecurity, possessiveness and suspicion – not the sort of emotion anyone likes to think they experience.

Jealousy is always a very destructive feeling. At best, it makes a child you mind very unhappy and dissatisfied, and at worst it sends her into a mood that results in her hurtful actions against other children and adults. That’s why you need to help her keep these natural – but unwelcome – psychological urges under control so that her enjoyment of life is not impaired.

Spotting The Green-Eyed Monster

An added difficulty is that a child rarely admits to jealousy – even a four-year-old can be reluctant to admit that she resents the success of her friend or that she feels threatened by the attention shown to another child in your care. That’s why you may have to read between the lines in order to identify jealousy as the source of a child’s challenging behaviour.

In some instances, a child’s jealousy is obvious. Like the time you praised one of the six-year-olds you mind because she had painted such a delightful picture, only to find that another child tore it up a few minutes later. Her jealousy of your approval of someone else’s creative effort was so strong that she couldn’t stop herself from destroying the item which attracted your attention in the first place.

In other instances, however, jealousy is expressed in more subtle ways. For example, a child you mind might become quiet and withdrawn when troubled by envy, or she might become very outgoing and attention-seeking in order to make herself centre-stage. Whenever a child behaves uncharacteristically, always ask yourself if jealousy – whether of another child you mind, or of one of her friends, or of her sibling – could be an influence on her reactions.

Causes of Jealousy

There are many potential causes of jealousy in children and you may be surprised how even the most sensible, level-headed child that you mind can be upset by feelings of envy and resentment.

Bear in mind that jealousy isn’t rational. In your eyes, for example, an eight-year-old who is very successful in school has absolutely no need to resent the comparatively minor success of a five-year-old who manages to memorise a poem for the first time. And you’d be right – the older child’s achievements vastly outstrip those of the younger one.

But jealousy doesn’t follow a logical path. It’s triggered by an individual combination of psychological factors which coincide to create the emotion of resentment, a feeling of threat and isolation, a fear reduced self-importance. For this reason, the intensity of a child’s jealousy may catch you off-guard.

Here are some typical sources of jealousy that can influence the behaviour of a child you mind:

•diverted attention. Most children like the limelight; they enjoy being the centre of attention. When that focus is shifted away – perhaps because you compliment the appearance of someone else whom you mind – jealousy can result. A simple comment is all that is required to stir those negative urges.

•sibling rivalry. Jealousy between brothers and sisters can be carried from the home into the childminding context. You may discover that when a child you mind has a new baby in the family, she starts to behave in a babyish manner herself when she is with you. This is her way of letting you know she is jealous of the new arrival.

•new toys. Envy over possessions is common in childhood. No matter how many toys a child has, she may be jealous when she sees a child with a different toy. In time she will learn that one way round this is for them to share with each other but in the meantime she is resentful of the other child’s collection.

•experiencing failure. Lack of success in a game, a school exam, a class test, a music competition or an athletic race is hard for most children to accept without some negative reaction based on jealousy. You may find a child ridicules another’s achievements even though she herself aspired to attain the same result.

•your children. Your own children are perfectly entitled to be in their own home while you mind others there too. Yet the special loving parental relationship you have with them could trigger envy and resentment in those you mind during the day. This type of jealousy usually subsides after a few weeks.

10 Top Tips For Managing Jealousy

1.   Don’t make a child feel guilty about being jealous. Remarks such as “You should be ashamed of being jealous of your baby brother” or “Only horrible children get jealous” simply encourages her to conceal her true feelings from you. It also is likely to produce a poor self-image, as she will begin to see herself in negative terms.

2.   Let her know you understand what it’s like to be jealous of someone else. There is no harm in admitting to her that you also feel jealous at times, as long as you add that you don’t let these feelings upset you or spoil your enjoyment of anything. Her distress will ease once she realises she can share her anxieties with you.

3.    Encourage the children to talk about their jealousy, instead of simply acting on their feelings. Voicing jealousy will help a child cope with these emotions. Certainly, it is better than encouraging her to conceal them. Pretending that feelings of jealousy do not exist will not make them go away.

4.   Accept that children vary in the amount of jealousy they experience. The fact that one child seems totally unaffected by jealousy does not mean another child you mind will follow a similar pattern. Avoid comparing a jealous child with other children who appear to be less jealous, since that may well make her even more jealous.

5.  Use stories to start discussions about jealousy and envy, even before it arises. In ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, the Queen’s jealousy of Snow White torments her throughout the whole story. Likewise, Cinderella’s rough treatment at the hands of her two ugly sisters stems from their jealousy of her.

6.    Speak to her once her jealous outburst has passed. When the child has calmed down, make a point of talking to her about what she felt. Ask her to explain what led to the episode, and try to identify strategies she could use to avoid that outcome the next time. She needs your help to develop control over her jealousy.

7.   Remember that very intense jealousy can be a sign of a child’s deeper anxieties. Where a child’s jealousy manifests itself constantly when she is looked after by you, the emotion may be a sign of her insecurity and lack of confidence. If you think this might apply to the child, try to identify the underlying causes.

8.    Don’t be surprised at the amount of jealousy and selfishness shown by children. Many psychologists take the view that children are instinctively selfish and possessive, and that development to some extent involves the child moving away from thinking only about herself to thinking and caring about others. Jealousy is shown by every child.

9.    Recognise that you won’t stop jealousy between children by trying to treat them equally. Each child is an individual, with her own particular emotional needs, and each of the children you mind needs your care and attention in varying amounts and in different ways. You won’t avoid jealousy by trying to treat them identically.

10.  Resist the temptation to pander to a child’s jealousy. Giving in to her jealous demands in order to make her feel better is only a short term solution. In the long term, it’s better for her to learn to accept there are differences between people, and that different people have different skills and abilities.