“Mommy, is she going to be better at everything than me?”
I hugged my dripping wet tiny seven-year-old. At the end of our girls’ first swimming lessons, what I had dreaded the whole six week session happened.
The younger got promoted to the next level and her big sister didn’t.
Bigger and more athletic than her older sister, she simply had better motor skills, a higher attention span, and more courage at that young age. Big Sister struggled with a mix of hurt and jealousy.
“Am I always going to be not as good?”
I struggled, too.
I mean, given their genetics, none of our children were ever going to be athletically coordinated, let alone gifted. As the larger and stronger child, though, her little sister did have an edge. What to say to this little wet waif, certain that she would always be at the end of every performance test?
I wish I had known the question she was really asking: “Do I have value no matter how well I can swim? Am I still precious to you when I fail? Will you love me the same even if I’m always “not as good” as someone else?
Jealousy and insecurity are as old as Cain and Abel, whether it be between siblings, friends, or total strangers whom kids hear their parents praising. It seems a logical leap for a child to think, “Mom likes her better than me,” when she hears her parent talking about the good points of another child.
Most of us have lived with the fear that we won’t be liked, or liked as well, if we don’t perform to a certain level. Healthy adults learn to separate their identity from other peoples’ judgments. Children, though, are still forming their identity and feelings of jealousy and insecurity are normal as they struggle to figure out their place.
So should I lie about my younger child’s prowess to appease the older? Do we never praise another child?
I doubt that’s the best approach, though. Encouragement is in short enough supply for most of us, so I’d vouch for forging full speed ahead on encouraging any child who needs or deserves it. Our children need a healthy balance of security and humility so that they know they are well loved but that they are not the only praiseworthy kid on the block.
How then do we foster security but not allow jealousy to take root?