My five-year-old daughter is jealous of my relationship with my husband

Ask the Expert: She always interrupts and tries to make herself a part of the interaction

It puts a great deal of strain on our relationship with her and each other. Photograph: iStock

It puts a great deal of strain on our relationship with her and each other. Photograph: iStock

 

Question: My daughter is five. She has always been extremely jealous of my relationship with my husband, or, his relationship with me – we can’t figure out which it is.

Whenever we try to have a conversation, she will always interrupt, and try to make herself a part of the interaction. It’s very obvious that she’s trying to return attention to her. We have always tried to help her express and understand her emotions and feelings and she will often share these with us. But when it comes to this issue, which has always been an issue, we just can’t get through to her.

She has alone time with her dad, alone time with me. We spend a lot of time together as a family as well. It’s just Mum and Dad interaction which makes her uncomfortable. It puts a great deal of strain on our relationship with her and each other.

Answer: It is completely understandable for a five-year-old to be jealous of their parents’ relationship. Your daughter might feel left out when she sees the two of you talking together and then rejected when you want to “exclude” her. If you criticise or get angry at her she is likely to feel even more rejected and insecure. This in turn can intensify her desire to interrupt again. A better approach is to be extremely patient and understanding of how she is feeling and to patiently wait for her to become more secure as she gets older. There are few things you can do that might help.

Ask the Expert: Send your questions to John Sharry

1) Try to keep long conversations with your partner until when she is in bed or occupied with a game somewhere else.

2) If you do need to have a chat, first give your daughter a bit of attention and then set her up with a fun activity. 

Make sure to keep your tone warm and upbeat. Make sure to praise her if she does go back to her activity – 'such a good girl for waiting' – so she feels proud of herself as she learns her new skill

3) Make a game of Mammy/Daddy talk. Set a timer for two minutes and say “Mum and Dad are going to chat until the timer goes”. Give her a fun activity to do while she waits. The key is to explain this as a fun game and to set the timer for a short enough period so she is successful the first time she plays. You can increase the time as she gets better at waiting.

4) Set up a routine on a star chart which includes family play time following a period of her playing alone. She gets a star for playing by herself as well as the reward of playing with you afterwards.

5) If she does interrupt a conversation, say ‘Mum will play with you in one minute” and redirect her gently back to her own activity. Make sure to keep your tone warm and upbeat. Make sure to praise her if she does go back to her activity – “such a good girl for waiting” – so she feels proud of herself as she learns her new skill.

– John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He is author of several parenting and mental health books. See solutiontalk.ie for details.