Why Child Jealous Of Parent Affection? 4 Ways to Resolve It

Children have a habit of interrupting intimate moments at the most inopportune times, but not every instance of that is mere coincidence. Kids can get jealous and insecure of their parents acting affectionate, and they’d act out in difficult, disruptive ways bound to frustrate everyone involved.

This problem can crop up due to a few different reasons. Your child could be more attached to one parent than the other, or they could feel neglected by both parents. They could also be unfamiliar with how their parents might choose to express affection towards one another, which may lead to them finding romantic affection disgusting.

Children don’t mean to be difficult – it’s simple insecurity at work. Be sure to take efforts to share that affection with the whole family. It’s important to separate your marriage from your family life – set aside private time to treat your partner with romantic affection, and prioritize the family dynamic when you’re with your kid.

It can be difficult handling a child that seems intent on frustrating their parents’ relationship. At the very least it will be exhausting. Stick to the list of common concerns and solutions below to ensure you’re on the right track to improving your family situation.

3 Big Reasons Your Child Is Acting Jealous

Reason 1: Attachment Disparity

little girl jealous of new baby

Simply put, your child could be more attached to one of his parents than the other. They wouldn’t be very inclined to appreciate said preferred parent acting affectionate to others, hence why they try to make an uncomfortable scene when such displays happen in front of them.

This kind of envy can manifest in a few different ways: crying, breaking objects, screaming, or even hitting others are common encounters in such cases. Your child’s demands can be exhausting to accommodate and can make families feel uncomfortably distant.

This “preferred parent” is usually, but not always, the parent of the opposite gender to the child. Kids tend to be less patient and more belligerent with the other parent, viewing them as competitors for attention, affection, and emotional engagement.

Reason 2: Feelings of Emotional Neglect

little girl feeling neglected by parents

While this is somewhat related to the first reason, the main difference boils down to specificity.

Attachment disparity occurs when the child places special emphasis on affection provided by a specific caregiving figure. Disruptiveness occurs when others are perceived to act in ways challenging or depriving the child of affection of their preferred parent.

Emotional neglect is a more generalized concern. It also stems from unmet needs but is focused more on the presence or absence of validation rather than the specific person providing it.

If your child wants more affection from mommy but not daddy, that may be a sign of attachment disparity. If they just want more affection in general, they likely feel emotionally neglected. 

Feelings of emotional neglect manifest because the child may feel insecure and unsupported. Affection between parental figures seemingly highlights that concern, making the child feel their presence is unneeded within the family.

Your child could also be viewing this through a binary lens, with the notion that attention and affection are finite and split between them and their other parental figure. By valuing your partner, you end up (in their eyes) implicitly devaluing them.

Keep in mind that this might also come from treatment disparities with how they were handled in the past vs the present. By changing treatment from a prior trend established, you demonstrate (to them) lower regard for their worth.

For example, if you cuddled up to your child more when they were a toddler but do that much less now, they might perceive the change in treatment as a form of emotional neglect.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing a bad job at parenting – it just means your current behavior may not be fully aligned with their emotional needs.

And even if you’re doing alright, communication and proper engagement will be needed to have everyone in the family back on the same page.

Reason 3: Lack of Familiarity (With Romantic Affection)

girl pushing someone away

Kids tend to have a more juvenile view of affection. The love they experience is mostly familial in nature, so they won’t really understand romantic love in the same way partners would.

Most kids are fine with hugs and affectionate touching, but kisses will likely disgust them. They simply aren’t equipped to grasp that, and their open behavior would reflect such sentiments.

Kids aren’t very discrete with how they might feel, so don’t hold their impulsive responses against them. Romantic affection can take a while to accommodate – especially for kids, who lack any experience in that regard.

4 Great Ways To Solve This

Solution 1: Equalize the Inclusion

family playing cards

If your child is more partial to one parent than the other, try to set up scenarios where they would spend time with the less “preferred” parent. Your child needs to perceive that parent in the role of a caregiver, rather than just a competitor for affection.

Simple ways to engage the child include playing with them, watching television together, listening to music, or even just chatting them up from time to time.

Another important element here is establishing intimate quality time. This can be done best by having the “preferred” parent leave the vicinity while those bonding activities take place. The key factor is consistency, so ensure these occasions happen on at least a semi-normalized basis.

This way, you guarantee that your child forms a strong attachment to both parents, reducing the likelihood of attachment disparities from emerging. They’ll end up being more okay with displays of affection between parents in due time – just give them a bit to come around.

If you believe your child may be feeling neglected, address this by providing emotional engagement from both parents. Talk to them about what they want, show an interest in their interests, and be sure to make them feel comfortable in both you and your spouse’s presence.

Outside of that, it’d be wise to practice more family-oriented displays of affection. Group hugs, pillow forts, and movie nights are a few nice choices for families wanting to be more tight-knit.

If you want a small way to start, try doing this: whenever you hug your partner, do the same to your child right after. Be sure to do the same vice-versa as well. This sort of behavior is habit forming and makes for a nice, safe way to get your family used to this level of inclusive warmth.

Solution 2: Set Aside Private Time For Your Partner

date night

While there isn’t anything wrong with showing your partner affection in front of family, be sure to pick and choose your moments. A hug or kiss from time to time is fine, but don’t overdo it in front of others. Too many of these displays are bound to make anyone uncomfortable.

It’s important that your child eventually accepts this type of affection between their parents, but be sure to help them out by reducing the number of instances they’d see happen. It should be a normal thing, but everyone in the family should act considerately with one another.

As for the time itself, set it aside for things like dates, hangouts, or walks. This adds a degree of separation between your family life and your marriage, and won’t feel as intrusive to your child.

Remember that you have both a marriage and a family: your child only has the latter, so respect when you’re overstepping the boundary. Your child will eventually respect your marriage in kind, and may even allow you two to have privacy during these moments by leaving the room.

Assure them that while this romantic dynamic exists, it won’t be detracting from your family dynamic as well. When at home, do ensure that the majority of affection, warmth, and love exercised is inclusive and comfortable for the whole family.

Solution 3: Be Patient With The Process

Children are stubborn, and it can get very tempting to overrule their hard-headedness in favor of simply demanding acceptance and good behavior on their part. It can take months of tested patience and bouts of volatility before tangible progress is made. You must bear with it.

It’s important that your child understands why they’re acting jealous towards their parents being affectionate towards each other. They need to understand why that isn’t acceptable, but kids are usually inexperienced in emotional matters. You’ll need to make the first move and try to understand their perspective.

Even if you aren’t neglectful, your child’s perceptions will carry more weight in their eyes. Children don’t have the social finesse to navigate things the way adults do – all they have at their disposal are complaints, so try to understand what they want you to improve on as a family.

That doesn’t mean you have to accept their disrespect. If you’re doing all you can to include them, and they still choose to be difficult during displays of affection to your spouse, it may be wise to ignore them – but not in an enabling manner.

Think of it this way: they’re acting out to get your attention. If you forego the affectionate mood in favor of getting angry at them, you’ll simply encourage them to continue with this type of behavior. Consequences won’t be effective as they’d already gotten the response they wanted.

Instead, focus on behavioral extinction. This term corresponds to certain behavior being less effective over time due to weakened responses, and the key element here is cutting off the reinforcing factor of unwanted behavior – which in this case is the overt emotional response.

The next time your child kicks up a fuss after hugging your partner, disregard their behavior. Calmly establish consequences for their action, but don’t validate their mistake with a volatile response. You’re trying to curb bad behavior, and silence happens to be the best tool for this.

Establish that you understand their difficulties and will give concessions through the learning process. Be a role model worth looking up to, but also be firm in shutting down disrespectful behavior promptly, decisively, and efficiently.

Solution 4: Acknowledge Everyone’s Progress

happy family watching the sunset

Lastly, don’t take everyone’s improvements for granted. Getting your child over their jealousy, while they test your patience, is an exhaustive effort that’s difficult to sustain. It would be a mistake not to celebrate everyone’s shared progress.

If your child lets you two have a moment of privacy rather than the interruptions they would have done weeks or months ago, be proud of that! Think of the difficult days and praise the effort and time it took all of you to get there.

Think just how far you’ve all gotten together as a family. Don’t fixate on how much further you need to go – doing so will only disappoint you.

Final Thoughts

A child jealous of their parents’ affection is a difficult but not insurmountable hurdle to overcome. It can be draining having your romantic moments interrupted, but your child isn’t doing this for the sake of being difficult.

They act this way because their emotional needs aren’t being met. They need their feelings validated and their worries assuaged, so do your best to provide them the comfort they need. Show them kindness and consideration, but don’t tolerate disrespect in any way, shape, or form.

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