Jealousy can tear a family apart, leading to bickering and endangered relationships. Children can learn to overcome jealousy by learning to recognize their own value.
Material is this lesson is inspired by and adapted from Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen, excerpted from a forthcoming book called, “What We Need to Know and Do.
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Prepare to share two Bible stories with your children: The parable of the Prodigal Son, and Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors. Younger children might enjoy acting one of these out. You could also tell one of the stories to the children earlier in the week and invite them to make puppets and do a puppet show during family night. If your children are older, read the story directly from the Bible.
After presenting the stories, ask the family if they see anything the stories have in common. They may have a variety of answers, so if no one mentions jealous brothers, guide them to see that by asking questions.
Ask some questions to help them understand this common thread. What was each brother jealous about? How did this jealousy affect their behavior? What did they do about their jealous feelings and how did that affect them? (One brother talked to his father about it and his father was able to help him understand. Joseph’s brothers committed a sin over their own jealousy, and although the story had a happy ending, there was a big price to pay for their choices. Their father, for instance, suffered terribly, thinking his son was dead.
Some children side with Joseph’s brothers, because they don’t feel it’s fair that Joseph was favored and got a better coat than the other boys. If your children feel this way, take time to accept their feelings and to discuss them. Help them to see that even if they felt hurt, they still didn’t have the moral right to harm their brother, and that their choices hurt others, and they also hurt themselves.
Pinegar and Allen suggest three strategies for overcoming envy and jealousy. Hand the following out to your older children and teens. Ask them to share their thoughts on each one, and to offer ideas for instigating them. For younger children, choose a few of them and create scenarios to let them practice. Samples of these are found after the quote.
1. Strengthen the foundations of your life.
- Realize your divine worth—You were born in the image of God—with an eternal destiny…and you are of eternal worth. This vision gives you self-esteem with absolutely no reason to pull down another unless you look at external or worldly things . . . and that is what the devil would have you do….
- Establish a principle-centered philosophy of living—Build upon a strong foundation: not upon the sands of envy, but upon the rock of the Lord Jesus Christ and the enduring principles of the gospel …humility, faith, hope, and charity. Create a value system based on correct principles, not the “things of the world.” Increase your love for others. If you love them, you will be happy for them in their accomplishments and successes.
- Cherish the “moment of happiness”—Build up the edifice of your life on a solid foundation, one moment at a time. Discover the “secret” in life—that happiness is not out there somewhere, but within this very moment: the moment of inner peace, the moment of togetherness with loved ones, the moment of inner illumination from the Lord and the Holy Spirit, the moment of satisfaction that you are planting seeds for the benefit of the coming generation. Many such moments add up to enduring happiness.
- Seek for a new kind of “wealth”—Reframe your view of wealth so that it encompasses not the transitory external things of the world, but the internal things that endure: your family, your relationship with your spouse and loved ones, your spiritual values. Understand and appreciate the fact that material gain and success in anything does not make one superior to another.
- Order your priorities according to that which endures—Have you ever lost something of the external world—a possession, a job, a home, an investment? If you were devastated from that, then you forgot that you can always rebuild and regain such things. But if you lose your soul or your enduring relationships with others, then your loss is indeed great. Place your priorities on the things that endure, rather than on the things that fade like chaff in the wind or foam upon the sea.
2. Look to your own gifts and talents.
- You are greater than you think—Learn to appreciate yourself for who you are and what you can become. Avoid obsessive comparisons with others!
- Take inventory—Identify your talents and abilities—the things that help to give your life added purpose and meaning—and cultivate them as a means for adding value to your family, your workplace, and your community.
- Know the true competition—Compete only within yourself. You can do better—let the “competition” take care of themselves.
3. Nip envy and jealousy in the bud.
- The “wealthy”—When you feel the least bit envious of others because of their worldly “wealth,” realize that such wealth may indeed be a burden, because in some it can lead to pride, and pride can be a serious stumbling block to happiness. Pray that pride will never be invited into your heart.
- The “talented”—When you feel the least bit envious of others because of their talents, look to your own God-given gifts, and do something today to cultivate them more fully. The talent you see in others is usually the result of enormous devotion and constant practice. Transform your envy to an appreciation for their talent that is blessing your life and encourages you to seek for self-improvement because of their great example.
- Learn from others—Learn to recognize the value of others and their needs. Everyone cannot be in first place in all things. Learn to say to people, “I admire your success and your talents. What is the secret of your success?” Then learn from their answers, and apply correct principles to your own life. Sincerely compliment others for their success.
- Get help from above—Pray to God, every day, that envy and jealousy will find no place in your heart.
4. Focus on the eternal rewards—Remember that if we are true and faithful we receive all the blessings of God. Seek to build up the Kingdom (bless your brothers and sisters)…. It is not being better than another but seeking to include them within the circle, that all might be partakers of eternal life. This is the true gospel of Jesus—one of inclusion, not exclusion, one of love and support, not one of putting down and finding fault through pride, envy, and jealousy.
For younger children:
Write the following situations on paper stars. Let the children take turns choosing a star, reading the question, and coming up with an answer. After the activity, teach them the song, “I Am Like a Star.”
- Eric’s best friend Chris got a really fancy new bike for Christmas. Eric’s family doesn’t have much money, so he only got a few small toys and several useful things. Every time Eric sees his friend riding the bike, he feels angry. Sometimes he thinks about making fun of his friend, or saying the bike is ugly. Sometimes he thinks he doesn’t even want to be Chris’ friend anymore. What could Eric do to get rid of his angry feelings? Is there something Chris could do, also?
- Heather is taking gymnastics lessons. Sometimes she watches the children who are more advanced or better than her. They get to do things that are more fun and they don’t seem like they’re working as hard as she is. She’s very jealous of them. She likes gymnastics, but she spends all her time talking about “someday when I’m better.” All she can think about is being at that level. She doesn’t have much fun in her lessons because she is unhappy she can’t do the harder things. How could Heather make gymnastics more fun?
- Steven’s older brother Mark has a beautiful singing voice. He often gets asked to sing solos in church and even at community events. He gets a lot of attention because of this and people are always talking about Mark. Steven can’t sing very well. When he’s helping his mother cook, or making things out of clay, he wishes he could sing. Nobody in the town knows he can cook or model clay and those talents don’t seem as glamorous or exciting as singing in front of lots of people. What can Stephen do to feel better?
Ask your children to name someone they really admire and to explain why. Do they think God loves that person more than He loves them? Does God value the good singer, or the talented writer more than the person who isn’t very good but works hard to do the best he can? They are God’s child and He loves them for who they are.
Hand each child a paper and have him write on it a list of things that make him special. The list can include talents, personality traits, good works, or anything else that shows what makes him a great person. Invite him to decorate the paper and hang it in his room.
You might want to make an additional list for each child on fancy paper. Put on it what you think makes that person special. Invite other family members to contribute. Do this privately through the week and then present it to the children next week.
Encourage your children to help strengthen others as well as improving their own self-esteem, by remembering to notice the good in others and to praise often.
Further reading for older family members:
Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Other Prodigal,” Ensign, May 2002, 62
(commentary on the Prodigal Son and its message for us today).