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We all know that childhood jealousy arises when the child perceives a situation as threatening to the bond he maintains with his parents or attachment figures, such as grandparents. For example, after the birth of a new baby. But why does this jealous behavior occur? What happens in children's brains when they are jealous of their siblings?
We look for the causes to better understand what is causing some of the disruptive behavior (tantrums, calls for attention, childish behaviors ...) of our children. Often we do not know if they are really caused by jealousy or, instead, they are the consequence of the symptoms of a disorder, lack of rules and limits, of some very specific situation or the child's temperament.
When our son feels jealous, he has to face unpleasant emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness ... When they are younger (at 3 or 4 years old) their emotional brain predominates over the rational one, because at that age they have not yet developed or matured your rational brain. They have no strategies to channel all those unpleasant emotions.
On the other hand, the oldest, from approximately 6 years of age, begin to be able to understand and rationalize the guidelines or the conversations we have with them. So, it is a good opportunity for you to take advantage and educate their emotional intelligence.
Learning to manage your emotions is part of your emotional development. Of course, adapting this learning to the evolutionary development of each child. We cannot teach the same strategies for regulate your emotions a 4-year-old child than a 7-year-old, for example, because the abilities and skills are different. Just as we do not have the same conversation with a child of 4 as we do with a child of 7, because we know that their comprehension capacities are different.
Due to the emotional charge that accompanies childhood jealousy, we highlight, at the brain level, limbic system as the most relevant in these reactions. Within this system, the main structure involved is the amygdala.
For those who do not know what the amygdala is, it is a subcortical structure that is found in the internal part of the medial temporal lobe of our brain and has a very important role in learning during childhood because Its main function is to control our emotions and feelings in the brain. It is key in our survival because it integrates all our emotions and its connections are in charge of our emotional reactions.
But what happens in children's brains when they feel jealous? When the child perceives his brother as something threatening 'for his survival', your amygdala is activated to keep you away from that danger. In this case, his brother is not a real danger, but for our son he is because it takes him away from his attachment figures and therefore he defends himself with behaviors such as rejecting the little brother, pinching him, pushing, slapping and getting angry with the mom or dad when they are with their little brother, cry to get their attention or even perform regressive (infantile) behaviors that are not typical of their age, such as putting on their brother's pacifier or peeing in bed again.
Good or bad, in the end they are strategies that our son uses. Therefore, we insist that an episode of jealousy is an ideal time to work on your emotional intelligence and help your emotional brain mature.
Before closing, I would like to show you some strategies that can be carried out to treat the jealousy of our son in the best way. To do this, I resort to the recommendations of Álvaro Bilbao, doctor in Psychology and Neuropsychologist.
This specialist points to the need to involve the older brother so that he feels like a great helper of his parents in tasks that they carry out for the little brother. You can make him participate, for example, in the moment of the bath or you can ask him to bring us the clothes that we are going to put on the baby. In this way, our son will activate his orbitofrontal region of the brain. This is activated when we take care of another person and it is a good antidote to your fears, as it will allow you to:
1. Little by little, bond with your new baby brother.
2. And at the same time, spend more time with mom or dad.
Isn't that a good strategy to help your brain?
Educational resources such as poems or stories can be a very useful tool for children to learn to identify jealousy and, above all, to recognize themselves and the relationship they have with their siblings. Through the stories, we present characters who live situations on which the little ones can react, by presenting them in a practical and playful way.
Do not hesitate to read these children's stories that we offer you with your children and do different complementary activities that we propose in each case.
You can read more articles similar to What happens in children's brains when they feel jealous of their siblings, in the Jealousy category on site.