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Toy envy during Christmas

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Teaching kids gratitude

Like every mom I know, I do my best to create a home and a life for my family that appropriately reflects our love, our values - and our budget. Most of the time, there's no real issue with this with the kids. They understand it and our life continues on with it's normal ups and downs. They understand we are incredibly fortunate and act - and ask for things - accordingly. That is, with restraint. Most of the time, anyway.

Christmas Envy

At holiday season, though, there's usually one day in the lead up to the celebrations when one child comes home all up in arms about how this person at school has so much more than they do, and why can't we have that, and why can't we have more, and everything about our life is horrible and boring and why can't we just have more, more, more - like "everyone" else. Oh boy. Jealousy has reared its ugly head.

A common emotion

Every once in a while, every kid I know - both my own, relatives, and friends - goes through a fit of jealousy over something. It's very common, and very human. When my oldest first expressed this emotion over some impressive building set a friend had received as a Christmas gift, my initial response was defensive. That didn't help the situation much. My son was not quite old enough to understand and express empathy; he just knew he wanted that toy! Within minutes, we were both up in arms, though for different reasons.

There certainly have been times - or, should I say are times (present tense!)  - that I feel jealous. Sometimes it's over a thing, whether frivolous or useful, or a situation or an experience. It doesn't really matter what it is, what matters is that I identify why I feel the need to look elsewhere; what is it that I am struggling with in my own very fortunate life? Usually whatever it is I think I am jealous of is actually an illusion.

Celebrating differences

While a child's jealousy may not be as complex as that, identifying and even validating the feeling to a certain extent can be the start of a bigger, age appropriate discussion about different circumstances and different choices. Yes, you can tell your child, I know that feeling, and it can be a hard one. Everything else looks so much more interesting and better because it's different from what we know and have. Part of the discussion, for us, then, is about differences, and how the world is so much more interesting because we are all different. There will always be those who have more than us, and there will be people who have less. I also try to separate the emotion from the trigger, whether that's a holiday or some other occasion; these emotions are independent of calendar or event.

Gratitude without guilt

From there, we usually segue into a discussion about being thankful for all that we do have, and how there are likely people who are jealous of us. We can talk about material versus intangible possessions and wealth, and about how we as parents have made certain choices for our life, and how, at times, we've had certain choices thrust upon us. I try my very hardest not to introduce guilt into the conversation - jealousy is a very common human emotion and that's the one we need to try to manage, not compound!

Discussions with our children about jealousy and differences and gratitude are never one-time talks. They are discussions that continue and evolve as our children grow and are able to understand more - and able to be jealous of more things. Jealousy may be more common at holiday time than at other times, but it is still the same base emotion whether it's December or July. You may never be able to escape jealousy - either in your kids or yourself - but you can identify ways to manage it.

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