Do you ever hear your children putting each other down or diminishing each other’s accomplishments? With four kids, this inevitably happens in our house. Ever seen something like this?
Our 5-year-old was learning to ride his bike and his sister (who is 4 years older) said, “That’s so easy. Look how well I can ride!”
Or our 13-year-old said she’s going to take advanced math next year and her older brother snidely quipped, “I already took AP math last year.”
Why do they need to put each other down? As a parent you are proud of both of them individually. Feeling joy for one child doesn’t mean you have less joy for the other. But the kids don’t necessarily see it that way.
Kids aren’t born knowing that there’s plenty of love to go around. They seem to think it’s a scarce resource and they’d better be sure to get their share. Combine that with the fact that children live in the now—and seem to forget the love and praise they received days, if not moments earlier—and you have the potential for a lot of hurtful jealousy.
The other day, another one of these situations came up and I took my younger daughter aside. Knowing there’s nothing like a little drama to get her attention, I whispered to her, “Lean in close. I have a secret for you. It’s the secret to having unlimited happiness and love in your life.” At this point, she raised her eyebrow and said something like, “Mom, you are so weird sometimes.” But she didn’t turn away.
Continuing with my pseudo-guru act, I told her:
"You feel joy when you do something cool, right? But when your brother does something cool, you feel kind of bad. Why feel bad? When he does something cool, it doesn’t change what you did. It doesn’t take anything away from your accomplishment. When you did something cool, we were excited for you. We shared your joy in that moment. What if you shared in his joy? You’d have two moments of joy instead of one!"
She hadn’t moved, and looked like she was thinking… so I kept going.
"There’s always enough love to go around. What if one moment he and I were especially happy for you, and in another you and I were especially happy for him? What if one day he got a new toy, and another day you got one? If you were happy every time something good happened, no matter which of you it was for, you’d be happy twice as often. Now what if you shared in my joy? Your friend’s joy? Everyone’s joy? Think how often you’d be happy."
She still had her eyebrow raised; but even when you think they aren’t listening, they are. I let it sink in and went on about my day.
There is no limit to the situations in which we now use the phrase, "take joy in their joy."
When it’s one child’s birthday and the other’s jealous of the presents: "Take joy in her joy and know you can play together later.""
When my son learned new math facts: "Take joy in his joy. We’re on the same team and your teammate just learned a new skill."
When they dreaded going to the antique fair with grandma: "She shared your joy at your soccer game last week. All she could do was stand around. Sounds boring, right? But it wasn’t boring because she shared how much fun you were having playing. Now you can look at her face and know she is enjoying herself. Who knows, she might show you something interesting!"
(By the way, we did find something interesting… turns out the Holly Hobby lunch box I had as a kid now sells at antique fairs. I guess I can tell my daughter I’m not weird, I’m just old. Now if you want some sage advice from creatures far older and wiser than I, check out the Talking with Trees book series for kids that teaches lessons in honesty, respect, responsibility, and forgiveness through real situations kids can relate to.