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 | By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

Sibling Jealousy: What is a Parent to Do?

Q: Our two daughters are driving us crazy. The younger one is so jealous of the older one that she has a tantrum whenever she cannot do whatever her sister is allowed to do. There is a four-year age difference between them; so, obviously, there is a different set of privileges for each. How can we get some peace back?

A: The sibling relationship is the longest-lasting relationship that your daughters will have. But it is filled with many emotions! When our oldest daughter was wearing a retainer, often she was absent-minded and would leave it in the oddest places. When it just couldn’t be found, we would ask all four children to help us do an extensive search. Once it was found in a bottle of mouthwash. Later, our younger  daughter confessed to hiding it there. How do we as parents turn these moments around so that family life stays on an even keel?

Get down to the specifics. Talk to your younger daughter one-on-one during a neutral time when there hasn’t been an emotional encounter about her big sister. It can be set up in a casual way. For example, take her to a craft store to buy some items so that later her friends can come over to make a Thanksgiving or Christmas decoration. Is she upset because her 15-year-old sister is learning to drive? You might remark that when you were 11, you never thought you would make it to 15 either because it seemed so far away! But if she is upset because her sister gets to select her own clothes, then maybe you can work out a plan for a bit more supervised autonomy in purchases.

Focus on the positives of this age period. Our culture is in a big hurry to grow up! Once we get there, we are eager to stay at exactly the same youthful age for the rest of our lives! Help your daughter recognize the privileges and responsibilities that match her age. Grade-school children take pride in learning skills – and it’s even better if you invite some friends over to join in. For example, learning the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon in a recipe is a valuable life skill! Try a cookie-baking party; your older children may decide they’d like to join.

Remember to pray for wisdom in your decisions about your children: “Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.” (Proverb 3:17-18)