Dear Dr. Meg,
I have 2 daughters; one is twelve and the other is six. The eldest one is always rude and means to her little sister. I am constantly telling her how much we love both of them. She has said that since her little sister was born we don’t pay attention to her, which is when I remind her of everything I do with her.
It breaks my heart to see how mean she is toward her little sister. Her little sister is always screaming because the older screams back. It’s a constant “screamathon.” I’ve told the 12-year old that if she wants to talk to a counselor she can, but she says “What about?” We all pray together and ask God to help us understand each other, but when the little one starts praying the older one gets angry. It’s been like this for 3 years or more. Help!
Your 12-year-old daughter struggles with jealousy, and you need to help her break this. Jealousy is a corrosive feeling and harms those who feel it. Some children are more prone to feeling jealous than others, depending upon their personalities, and others may have legitimate feelings that stem from lack of attention from one or both parents- especially if parents clearly favor one child over them.
Here’s what I encourage you to do.
Ask yourself why you think your older daughter feels jealous.
Do you or your husband favor your younger child- even a little? If so, then work on feeling kinder and more forgiving of your daughter. This doesn’t sound like the situation with you and your husband, but sometimes children pick up vibes from parents that are subconscious.
Second, sometime when you are alone with your daughter and she is in a good mood, ask her some simple pointed questions like,
“Honey, I have noticed that you sometimes struggle with jealousy. I’ve had those same feelings and they made me feel terrible. Is feeling jealous hard for you? Why do you suppose you have those feelings?”
Don’t answer for her, teach, or reprimand her. Just let her talk and begin to think about her feelings. If you tell her what to feel, she will become defensive and you won’t get anywhere.
Third, stop defending yourself to your daughter.
Telling her of all the work you do for her falls on deaf ears. At twelve, children are very egocentric and have difficulty putting themselves in a parent’s shoes. And- if you genuinely work hard for her and love her, becoming defensive only puts her in the driver’s seat and makes her feel that she has a legitimate point. Don’t let her feel this way.
Fourth, make sure that you and your husband take each of the girls alone to do things together once a week.
This makes each of the girls feel special and gives them your undivided attention. It also shows them in a concrete manner that you give each of them the same time.
Fifth, when they scream, they must be immediately separated.
Tell each of them that screaming, demeaning one another or being mean is NOT acceptable in your home. You must make clear rules and the consequences to screaming must be strong and immediate.
When your 12-year old puts her sister down, acts nasty or screams, her cell phone (or something meaningful that she really wants to have) is taken away for one week. Period. No discussion. She will scream louder, slam doors and tell you that you are the one who is mean. Oh well. Adolescents have temper tantrums that rival those of 2-year olds, so try to ignore her.
Seeing change in your daughter will take months, so be patient with her and yourself. Be consistent and persistent, and I have complete confidence that you will be successful. Don’t give up.