My stepdaughter, Sara, recently revealed a secret she had kept for years. It had to do with some jealousy that began when we were a new blended family.
On our first vacation together, the girls were playing games and singing songs in the back seat of our van during the long drive. Sara, then 8, and my biological daughter, Jennifer, then 15, broke out into a cheerful duet. My husband, Harvey, glanced back and exclaimed, "My daughters can really sing!" Then he turned around to see what Jennifer's reaction would be because it was the first time he'd ever referred to her as his daughter. Harvey wanted Jennifer to feel that daddy-daughter relationship that she never experienced with her bio father.
Unfortunately, Sara didn't hear the "s" on daughters, and because he looked at Jennifer after the compliment, she thought her dad was complimenting only her stepsister. Sara's feelings of rejection and jealousy began at that moment and plagued her for several years.
The fear of losing her daddy's love was real to Sara, even though there was no change in Harvey's affection. Consequently, Sara's perceived loss motivated her to compete for attention by trying to sabotage Harvey's relationship with Jennifer and me. In Sara's young mind, Jennifer and I became threats to her daddy's love.
Stepsibling jealousy can be subtle, volatile and destructive, but detecting it isn't difficult if you know what to look for. Be on the lookout for these red flags that you might see in a jealous child:
- Being overly clingy with his or her bio mom or dad.
- Displaying resentment by sulking or frequently fighting over little things.
- Trying to outperform or upstage a stepsibling.
- Attempting to turn the bio parent and siblings against a stepsibling by tattling or saying negative things about him or her.
- Accusing the bio parent of playing favorites.
Left unchecked, jealousy can drive wedges deep into family relationships, particularly between stepsiblings. The key to dispelling this kind of jealousy is to help your children feel secure in your love for them. Here are a few ideas to guide you in bringing harmony and stability to your family:
Refrain from comparing your children's behavior.
Your child can easily interpret "Why can't you keep your room clean like Jennifer?" as "You think she's better than me."
Listen to all sides of a dispute.
After you listen to the first child without allowing interruptions, say something like, "Thank you. Now I want to hear your brother's side." This is a powerful way to convey that you respect each child.
Nurture unique strengths in each sibling.
Children need to be affirmed by their parents and hear from their bio mom or dad what makes them unique. What does the child love — books, sports, music, art, animals? Once you've identified the strengths or talents, find opportunities to cultivate and validate them so each child can be acknowledged individually.
Find special time alone with each child.
Spending "just us" time with a child will help him or her feel treasured and secure in your love. Capitalize on the times when the other children may be at a friend's house, doing a school activity or napping. Invite your child to play a video game, shoot some hoops, paint fingernails or bake cookies — just the two of you.Terri Clark is the author of Tying the Family Knot and Fanning the Flame.