7 Tips for Managing Cain Complex in Children

Cain's complex in children occurs when an older child feels jealousy towards their new sibling. Learn more about it.
7 Tips for Managing Cain Complex in Children
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

When a second child enters the world, there’s a change in the family’s structure. Now, in addition to mom and dad, there’s also an older sibling and the one who just arrived, who’ll be the youngest. Sometimes, this comes with a loss of privileges and the eldest child having less time with their parents. As a result, we can see Cain complex in children with the arrival of another child into the family. 

When the birth of a sibling results in excessive jealousy of the older sibling, we call it Cain complex. Do you want to know more about this complex and how you can manage it? Today, we’ll try to answer some of those questions.

Cain complex in children: how to tell if your child has it

Cain complex in children refers to the excessive jealousy an older sibling feels towards their younger sibling. In some instances, the older sibling may even try to hurt their younger sibling when the parents aren’t around. 

A sad child lying in bed.

The psychologist Charles Baudouin was the one who first made this observation. he noted that the first-born child may feel inordinate jealousy when a new member of the family arrives. This problem usually arises between the ages of three and six. It happens because the youngest child needs more attention, which can make the older child very jealous. 


Here are some of the characteristics of this affective problem:

  • Regression: the older sibling may return to an evolutionary stage behind where they previously were at. They do this in an attempt to get more attention from their parents. For example, if they’d already stopped wetting the bed, they may start doing it again.
  • Attacks: these can be physical (hitting their sibling) or non-physical (ignoring their sibling or insulting them). In addition, they may also attack their parents.
  • Fixations: the child stays at their current stage of development and they show no sign of moving forwards. Also, they may refuse to sleep or eat by themselves, even if they did it previously.
  • Frequent crying.
  • Greater sensitivity.
  • Restlessness.
  • High sensitivity

How to manage Cain complex in children

When a second child arrives, the family structure and dynamics will change. That’s completely normal. In addition, your schedules and distribution of responsibilities will change. There are children who don’t understand these changes and who won’t feel as if they’re actually the “older sibling.” Instead, they’ll feel as if they’re being replaced because they aren’t getting attention from their parents, and they’ve lost some privileges and space in their home. 

We should note that it’s normal for children to feel jealousy towards one another. Also, it’s normal for the older child to feel jealous as a result of the changes in the family dynamics they have to adapt to. However, the problems arise when the older child isn’t able to manage those feelings.

How can parents help their children to manage these emotions?

  • The parents should prepare their oldest child for the arrival of their younger sibling. You should explain to them that they’re going to be the older sibling and that, at first, the new baby won’t be able to do things on their own. Therefore, you’ll need to take care of the new baby and give him more attention. 
  • Spend time with the older sibling. You should dedicate time specifically to the older sibling. You can play games, watch a movie together and make sure he knows that you still love him just as much as before.
  • Avoid phrases such as: “Since you’re older, you can do this…” You don’t want to tell him to do something just because he’s the oldest. However, you should still bring attention to any inappropriate behaviors.
Strategy games for families
  • Avoid punishing the child for being jealous. It’s better to tell them stories so that you can identify the emotion they’re feeling because of their new sibling’s arrival.
  • Always respect the routines that you previously had before the new baby’s arrival. For example, if you used to play with the oldest at a certain time of the day, you should continue to do that.
  • Avoid giving the eldest responsibilities related to their younger sibling. For example, “Watch your little brother!” “Take care of your little sister!” You should avoid those phrases because the new child isn’t your eldest child’s responsibility. Of course, they can help out, but they should never be held accountable.
  • Don’t compare the two siblings. Avoid phrases such as, “Your sibling is younger than you and he can do this.” Each child has different abilities and personalities. Therefore, you should never compare your children because that’ll just increase their jealousy. 

As parents, you have to face this situation as soon as possible. Remember, jealousy can be a long-lasting issue and it can cause conflicts in the family environment.


As you can see, excessive jealousy can cause Cain complex in children. This is more serious than the dethroned prince syndrome, in which the jealousy is less intense. If you don’t see any improvement in your child’s behavior, it’s best to talk to a professional. They can guide and support your child’s emotional management and help change their behavior.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.