38% of girls ages 8 to 12 told us they’re jealous of the way other girls look.
What does all this mean for your daughter? It means that even if she hasn’t said anything to you about being jealous, chances are she’s struggled with the emotion. As Maxine, a 12-year-old DG reader from Virginia, says: “Everyone deals with jealousy. When people see commercials for the latest fashions and then their friends show up in them the very next day, they start to envy their friends. Eventually it becomes a competition to see who has the best stuff. Or you start to become jealous of the way someone looks or performs in school or sports. Jealousy can cause us to act in ways we don’t mean to, and it leads to fighting and even ruined friendships.” The good news? You can help your daughter deal before her jealousy damages her friendship or harms her self-esteem. If you’re not sure how to bring up the subject without sounding like you’re making an accusation, you’ll find a handy conversation starter in “Stop Being Jealous,” an article in our December/January 10 issue or in other articles in our archives, such as “Your Feelings.” Next step? Check out what top child development experts have to say:
No matter how close your relationship with your daughter, she may not always confide in you about her jealousy. Trust your instincts. If you suspect she’s feeling jealous, you’re probably right. “It’s unrealistic to set a goal for your daughter to never feel jealous,” says Fran Walfish, PSY.D., author of The Self-Aware Parent. If she’s constantly down on herself or talks incessantly about her rivals’ accomplishments, she’s feeling jealous—and needs your help dealing with it.
Your first course of action? Don’t trivialize or make light of her feelings. Avoid saying:
Instead, validate her feelings so she knows they’re normal. “Verbally mirror her feelings without dwelling on the negative,” says Walfish. Say: “I can imagine that you might be feeling a little jealous that Jenna made it on to the varsity team. You really wanted it and tried so hard. It must seem unfair that she got it and you didn’t.” Then, it’s her turn to talk.
Encourage your daughter to open up by asking open-ended questions, like “What is it about her that makes you upset?” Once she spills her feelings, help put her jealousy in perspective by reminding her that the things she’s jealous of—a classmate’s trendy clothes, popular status, or a trophy—aren’t so important after all, suggests Walfish. “Explain that what really determines someone’s worth are things like how you treat other people, whether you’re a good friend, and your honesty and integrity.”
It may be tempting to cheer her up by telling her that of course she’ll make the team next year, but you might make matters worse. “Promising her things that you’re not in control of is a set-up for disappointment and even more jealousy,” says Walfish. Instead, simply say that everyone gets their moment to shine but we can’t predict when that will be. Then, encourage her to keep trying, stay hopeful, and never give up on what she wants. Model Smart Reactions When your daughter sees that you also experience jealousy and deal with it in a healthy way, it takes major pressure off her. You can say, “Sometimes I look at Sue’s big new house and I think, Oh, how I wish I had that! But then I come to my senses. I love our house, and I have everything I need right here.” That statement of acceptance lets your daughter see that it’s important to be happy with what we do have.
When your daughter sees that you also experience jealousy and deal with it in a healthy way, it takes major pressure off her. You can say, “Sometimes I look at Sue’s big new house and I think, Oh, how I wish I had that! But then I come to my senses. I love our house, and I have everything I need right here.” That statement of acceptance lets your daughter see that it’s important to be happy with what we do have.