Children’s National psychologist Eleanor Mackey, Ph.D., explains in this post, originally written for Rise and Shine, about gift jealousy and offers tips for parents on preventing and managing gift jealousy among siblings.  She shared that leading up to the holiday season, many parents search far and wide for the items on their child’s wish list. Despite the thought and love that parents put into gift choices for their family, children may still express jealousy over their brother or sister’s gift. Children’s National psychologist Eleanor Mackey, Ph.D., explains gift jealousy and offers tips for parents on preventing and managing gift jealousy among siblings.

Is gift jealousy normal for children?

While some parents may worry whether gift jealousy among their children is normal, Mackey reassures parents it’s perfectly natural. “It’s a normal part of development. Parents shouldn’t worry about it,” Mackey said.

Mackey said that children are learning to protect their territory, whether it’s over their room, toys or even gifts. She explained that kids can get territorial with their belongings because they don’t have a lot and as they begin to look at their sibling’s possessions they may feel jealous of their belongings. In fact, Mackey said it’s important for children to feel jealous and learn how to appropriately deal with their feelings because it teaches them healthy strategies as they grow up.

“It’s all healthy as long as they can cope with it appropriately and it doesn’t get in their way,” Mackey said.

Signs of gift jealousy

The signs of gift jealousy can range and are dependent on the age of the children, Mackey explained. More specifically, Mackey noted that little children, who do not fully comprehend the situation or their feelings, may just grab a gift out of their sibling’s hands, which could lead to a tug-of-war. With slightly older children, Mackey said signs of gift jealousy could include crankiness, moodiness or whining. 

A teaching opportunity

Mackey explained that parents should look at gift jealousy as an opportunity to teach children acceptance, appropriate behavior and how to cope with their feelings. “It’s something you can work on all year, but something you’re going to see a lot more of during the holidays,” Mackey said.

Mackey recommended that parents use a three-step plan to help prevent and manage gift jealousy when it arises.

    1. Plan ahead to avoid jealousy where possible.
      • Try to coordinate similar gifts for children with grandparents and family so they are not jealous of one another’s gifts.
      • If a gift is not appropriate for one sibling, try and balance out the level of excitement with a similar alternative gift.
      • Communicate with children ahead of the holidays that people receive different gifts and explain that gifts may be shared if age-appropriate.
      • Teach children to be grateful. Explain how lucky they are that someone loves them enough to give them a gift and that it could hurt other people’s feelings if they express dissatisfaction with their gift.
    2. Help your child label the emotion and identify appropriate behavior.
      • Acknowledge a child’s feelings of jealousy, explain what it means when they feel this way, and how they can help themselves feel better.
      • Emphasize the importance of manners such as saying thank you and showing enthusiasm for gifts.
      • Help children accept a “no” answer from their sibling when asked if they can share a gift or take turns right away.
    3. Help your child cope with their gift jealousy.
      • Teach children to ask their sibling if they can share or play with a gift together.
      • Remind your child that they have great gifts too.
      • Demonstrate that other kids may not have what they do. Involve children in taking food to a shelter or collecting toys for a toy drive.
      • Be a role model for children when you receive a gift. For example, “I can’t believe this person gave me this gift. It’s so nice and I love it!”
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