My six-year-old came home from a playdate and complained that “so-and-so has such a big closet, why don’t I get one too?”
DR. RUTHERFORD: These words can certainly be tough for a parent to hear, but I wouldn’t deny what the child is saying. It probably was a big, beautiful closet. What we’re not sure about is what her motivation was for asking this question. Is she feeling jealous of what the other child has, or is she simply curious that other people live differently than she does?
The key is for the parent to resist getting defensive. A good response might be something like, “Gee, isn’t she lucky to have that.”
It’s fine to empathize with the child’s feelings, too, and say: “I understand that you’d like a big closet like that, too, and maybe you will have one someday.”
MOLLY: This question was submitted from a mom in Los Angeles and I’ve been in her shoes! If I were this Mom, I know my first reaction would be to say: “Well, you get to do this and you get to do that… You get to go to ice skating classes and maybe they don’t; everyone is different and has different things.”
I think it’s important that children realize that they don’t necessarily have to have or do the same things as their friends do. Maybe that’s getting too defensive?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, I think that’s getting too defensive. I would take a different approach and say,”It’s a beautiful house and closet, isn’t it. I really love it, too, and it has so much space, but you know what? I really love our house, too, and we feel lucky to have it.”
Sometimes we see long term effects from this kind of envy, which manifests itself as a sense of entitlement. Also, the envy experienced in childhood when not dealt with, can become a form of chronic envy towards people who have more material wealth. Nothing feels like enough. After all, there will always be someone with more wealth in the neighborhood. This can be experienced as a bitterness and a sense of being cheated. You can see why it’s better to face this issue when your kids are young.