Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Your child constantly moans that she has a raw deal: Her younger sibling always comes out on top, whether it’s personal attention from you or fighting for a bag of sweets. She constantly compares her share to his, and exclaims loudly: “It’s not fair, Mum!” She wants everything to be equal, but it’s not that simple because of their differences in age, personality and preferences. This type of jealousy is so common in families that most psychologists regard it as normal behaviour.
You won’t stop her being envious of her little brother by trying to treat them equally. Each child is an individual, with his or her particular emotional needs, and each of your children needs love and attention in varying amounts and in different ways. It’s a mistake to think that the best way to avoid cries of “That’s unfair!” is to treat them identically (when one child gets a toy, the other gets the same one) or giving each the same opportunity (one gets skating lessons, so the other will have the same lessons, too).
Of course, it’s tempting to buy each of your children the same toy because there can be no complaints about one getting something better than the other. But it also means one of your kids will get something she doesn’t really want, and it does not take into account each child’s individuality.
Related: How to stop playing favourites
Your elder child has to learn to accept that there are differences between her and her brother. If you avoid that issue and pander to her sense of injustice every time, she’ll still feel hard done by.
Here are some suggestions to reduce your kid’s complaints of unfairness:
1. Take her moans seriously Listen to your daughter’s complaint about lack of fairness without interrupting her, even though you don’t agree. Give her a chance to say exactly what she feels, and show that you’re listening to her. That way, she’ll at least feel you respect her and are prepared to take her seriously.
2. Reassure her Point out that you love her and her brother, that you do your best to treat them both fairly, and that you avoid treating them differently. Even if she shrugs her shoulders to demonstrate that she disagrees with you, your words will have an effect.
3. State the consequences Remind her that if they were both treated exactly the same, she would not go to bed later than her toddler brother, she would have to watch only toddler TV programmes, and she wouldn’t have as much say in the choice of her clothes. Not treating the two of them equally actually works in her favour.
4. Question yourself Consider whether you actually do give more attention to your younger child (because he’s very demanding) or that you do give him more sweets (because you want to calm him). If you think you favour one child, try to redress this imbalance.
5. Encourage sharing You’ll find that claims of unfair treatment diminish when your kids spend more time together sharing and cooperating than competing. So, encourage them to share their sweets, toys and games, and to play together when possible. You could even occasionally give your elder child the responsibility for dividing up their sweets. She’ll probably do that fairly.
Related: 10 tips to teach your child to share