Child development stages and jealousy

Written by heather mckinney
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Child development stages and jealousy
From infancy, children crave attention (a beautiful baby playing with a baby-brush image by Andrii Oleksiienko from

Parents often witness jealous reactions in their children when an event such as a new baby happens within the family. The older child may show resentment as the focus shifts to this new addition. It is often surprising to parents to witness this emotion in their child. It may cause them to wonder if jealousy is a normal part of development or if it indicates a deeper problem.

Freud's Theory

Psychologist Sigmund Freud theorised that development happened in five psychosexual stages. In his theory, jealousy emerged at around age three during what he called "The Phallic Stage." He proposed that children were jealous of the parent of the same sex and saw them as competition for the affections of the opposite sex parent. At this stage, he believed that children become jealous when they are not at the centre of parents' attention. They may display this by wanting to sleep with their parents or may act out to get more attention.

Erikson's Theory

Erik Erikson was a psychologist influenced somewhat by Freud, but he felt society influenced development rather than sexual desires. He developed eight stages in his theory of Psychosocial conflicts that children move through as they grow. Erikson's third stage begins at around age three where the conflict is between initiative and guilt. At this stage children begin to take initiative in role-playing activities that help them find their place in society. Children unsure of their proper role in the family might feel exasperation leading to guilt. It is at this point jealousy might develop if the child fails to get attention and reassurance of his role in society from the parents.

Piaget's Theory

Jean Piaget was originally a biologist who went on to study child development. He developed a theory based on four cognitive stages of development. Though he did not use the term jealousy within his stages, he did refer to "Egocentrism." This is a notion that the world revolves around the child. This is prevalent during infancy and early childhood, referred to by Piaget as the Sensorimotor and Pre-operational stages respectively. These two stages cover birth up until about age 7. Babies cry when they are hungry or wet, regardless of the time of day or night. Young children come and bug you while you are on the phone, not wanting your attention focused elsewhere. When they find attention diverted, jealousy naturally follows.

Modern Views on Jealousy

Sybil Hart and Maria Legestree compiled numerous case studies on jealousy into a book called "Handbook of Jealousy: Theory, Research and Multidisciplinary Approaches." They basically say there are two opposing views on jealousy. One view sees jealousy as negative, arising from feelings of fear and anger. The other view sees it as a positive emotion associated with affection and love. They say that jealousy is apparent in children from infancy on and is often even desired by parents. For instance, a new mother may have her feelings hurt if her child does not fight for her attention.

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