Competition between gifted sibs tearing us apart! - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 09-18-2010, 11:56 PM - Thread Starter
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My two oldest are gifted, although my 8yo struggles with it far more than my 11yo does, partly I think because he is actually leagues brighter.

My 11yo is strongest spatially/mathematically. He is a precocious reader. But he's also very emotionally and socially balanced. He loves school, he's in all AP classes and feels adequately challenged. He's got lots of friends. He's doing fine.

My 8yo, however, is a social-emotional wreck. His self-esteem is rock bottom. He's depressive. He's explosive. His strengths are science and world cultures. He may have some dyslexia/dysgraphia issues, we don't know for sure yet, but he is definitely struggling with reading (even though he loves it).

His 2nd grade teacher is really having a hard time with him. He's defiant, spaced-out and dishonest. The teacher is worried that he will fall behind academically this year. (I'm not really worried about that -- this isn't a capability issue, it is more a battle of wills.)

I think a big part of the problem is that my 8yo lives in the shadow of his big brother -- and there's not a lot I can do to change that. The more my 11yo excels, the more polarized their attitudes and behaviors become. It doesn't help that when 8yo does something unique, 11yo immediately does it better to one-up him.

The truth is that 8yo is a very brilliant, creative, talented kid. How can I help him see this through his own eyes?

Mom to : DS1 (11), DS2 (8), DD3 (4), : DS4 (1), and : : :
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#2 of 6 Old 09-19-2010, 12:22 AM
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From what you wrote, it sounds like the root problem is the 8-year-old's poor self-esteem. I don't think that living in the shadow of a high-achieving, people-pleasing gifted elder sibling necessarily leads to serious self-esteem issues. My eldest is like your eldest, and her younger siblings have not had that kind of reaction. (My second-oldest does have some confidence issues, but there's no resentment or competitiveness between siblings.) So I'd be willing to bet that there's something else besides just his position in the family that's playing into this and setting him off, so that his older brother's ability is becoming a flashpoint for him. I think you're on the right track pursuing the possibility of LD issues; he may be enduring some very deep-seated struggles that are eroding his faith in his competence as a learner. Counselling might also be a good idea.

I do, however, think that since your younger child's self-esteem needs some TLC it is imperative that you rein in your eldest's impulse to one-up him. Eleven is more than old enough to understand the issues at play here. I would take him out for an ice cream date and have a long and serious conversation about the struggles his brother is having and what he can do to help support him. Talk about how being the eldest sucks in some respects, but it's great in one way: you're almost always the first, smartest, fastest, strongest, cleverest kid in the family when it comes to accomplishing things. That's an experience his younger brother almost never gets. And because he's not very happy inside himself right now, he needs some of those experiences desperately. And you think elder ds is old enough to help out in this respect, by giving younger ds chances to feel like he can excel and truly shine, without trumping his accomplishments. Give examples, and point out the choices of response that elder ds has, and re-iterate what kind of response you need from him. And I'd work out a secret hand signal or verbal nudge that could act as a reminder for the eldest.

These sorts of conversations help build empathy and stronger family relationships. I think it's worth having them regularly. You could also have family meetings together to talk about "how we're getting along," without blame, simply giving everyone a chance to express themselves, their needs, their perspectives, and brainstorm ideas that would help. Family meetings have been immensely helpful in our family and I think they've headed off a lot of rivalry and resentment. We usually do them over yummy snacks and warm drinks, and everyone looks forward to them.


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#3 of 6 Old 09-19-2010, 08:48 AM
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I think temperament comes into family dynamics like this a lot. I see already in my kids that the ones who show perfectionist tendencies are comparing themselves to each other and seeing only where they fall short - and the little ones are only three.

My brother had great difficulty with being two years behind me. He didn't get things sorted out until he had spent a year as an exchange student half-way around where nobody knew me and had dropped out of college for a semester of backpacking around Europe to decide whether he was going to college for himself or to please my parents. Now, he is incredibly successful and I am an underachiever, so something ended up really well for him.

In addition to never getting to be the first or the best at anything (I was as good as he was in math and science and much better in English and the humanities), his achievements didn't get noticed by my parents because they assumed that because he was smart like me, he would do just as well.

I would explore the dyslexia/dysgraphia hard and make sure he sees that you are taking his challenges seriously. There are some things you can help him with even if you don't have a diagnosis: for instance, typing and cursive can help with certain forms of dysgraphia and are good skills to have anyway.

I don't know if it will help in your case, but here is what has helped in my family. Dyslexia runs in my family. In general, it is mild-dyslexia that it was effectively compensated for early in life. The description that follows was enough to help most of the folks, but the one time more severs dyslexia was with less giftedness, more services were needed.

I have found that following along in a story book while listening to it read has really helped by kids with reading. It builds a large foundation of sight words, which is good because dyslexics often focus on the picture a word makes on the page as easier than breaking down the phonics. And, you can jump into chapter books much earlier, so a smart kid with reading trouble isn't constantly struggling with boring reading. There are forms of dyslexia that involve mis-hearing or mis-parsing phonics and using phonics as the main teaching tool doesn't work for these folks. Of course phonics is useful, but it trips up my mildly-dyslexic kids when we are starting reading. When DS1 (who now reads well enough that I no longer consider his reading level) was learning to read, he got the most out of listening to a book on CD a few times so that he basically had it memorized and then read the book. We did this with 4 or 5 books in the Magic Treehouse series and a few other books in other series and his reading ability just skyrocketed.

Good luck. It must be heartbreaking to watch him struggling with his self-esteem and his reading.

mother of Patrick (7/31/03), and Michael, William, and Jocelyn (4/27/07)
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#4 of 6 Old 09-19-2010, 12:44 PM
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This doesn't sound like an issue about giftedness, but more about family dynamics. Can you talk to your oldest, honestly, about this? Sometimes siblings are looking for validation from other sibs -- not from mom and dad. My oldest two are gifties and it's the younger one that is very easy going, socially engaging, etc; her older brother often looks for her validation. Likewise, the younger one, when it comes to academics, wants her brother to acknowledge her in some way. I can talk to my oldest about this, about how his siblings do look up to him, and how little things mean a lot to them -- which is true. As he's gotten older, he's very sweet with them -- he encourages them and takes time to look at things they've created or hear about something they are reading -- but he had to mature quite a bit to be able to do that. (My oldest is also PG, and his sister is id'ed as gifted by the school but doesn't participate in any gifted programs right now, she is perfectly happy in her regular classroom -- I sometimes suspect it's because she doesn't want to be in his shadow, and he tends to set the bar pretty high in the gifted classes; she can shine where she is and not be subjected to comparisons)

Joy, mama to Aquaboy (10), Goldilocks (8), Squidge (4)
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#5 of 6 Old 09-20-2010, 02:08 AM
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Mine are much younger. But I wanted to say that my elder one who has been tested gifted had the same personality - depressive, explosive, low self-esteem - after he entered kindergarten. While there were other factors at play, his self-esteem really improved greatly after I helped him with his reading (mild dyslexia) and we got some help for his vision processing. Most recently I took him to a cranial osteopath and after one session he could cycle a 2 wheel bike (he's almost the very last 6 yr old in the neighbourhood to master it). He told me he used to feel giddy after cycling, not anymore.

Anyway, point is, I think your younger one may need more help with his difficulties than you realise. Defiance, spaced-out and dishonest are sometimes way for them to cover up their feelings of inadequacies. It may be easier to say "I don't care", "I don't want" than "I don't know how", or worse, "I just can't and I don't know why".

If reading is hard, that's a lot of energy being taken out of you through the day, especially as you move up the grades. I learnt that children with mild difficulties can usually compensate and cover up adequately UNTIL they hit second or third grade. That's when they start falling apart, homework piles up, and they feel totally overwhelmed. If dysgraphia is an issue, slow handwriting can make a normal piece of homework seem like a tedious backyard job. One piece of homework times 3 teachers and they could be up all night trying to finish up. My elder has been recommended for a review at eight yrs old, and also red-flagged for dysgraphia, and we are trying to get a head start by working on handwriting now while he's still 6 and have all the time to build up his handwriting speed.

On the issue of competition, I do get what you're driving at. My 3 yr old would absolutely not touch anything that his elder brother excels at, even though he is in many ways, in a better position having no spatial-directional issues or vision issues. I had to tell him that he is as great as a 3 yr old can be, while ds1 is as great as a hardworking 6 yr old can be. I also tell them both a lot about the value of efforts and how even baby birds have to put in effort to learn to fly. My elder one is also terribly into one-upmanship at times and it drives me mad. In fact I was ranting about it a while back here! I think Moominmama's advice is very sound.

ps re dishonest - you did not specify how, but it brought to mind a PG child I know of who began hiding his homework. He has dysgraphia.
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#6 of 6 Old 09-20-2010, 02:35 AM
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Originally Posted by cymbeline View Post
The teacher is worried that he will fall behind academically this year. (I'm not really worried about that -- this isn't a capability issue, it is more a battle of wills.)
Sorry I reread your post and I wanted to address this. It may be a good idea to ask the teacher why she thinks so. I would like to say that that was my exact thoughts (capability versus battle of wills) before I found out about ds1's problems. Listening to him talk so cogently, looking at the things he build, I just could NOT tell how much he was struggling to follow the teacher in school. And this is only in kindergarten!!

Originally Posted by cymbeline View Post
...The truth is that 8yo is a very brilliant, creative, talented kid. How can I help him see this through his own eyes?
You can tell him straight. Before we worked on ds1's reading issues, I told him he was very creative, we love his buildings, his drawings and we think they are amazing. But everyone has different strengths, and he will need to work on his reading. I also explained to him that where school is concerned, written work will reflect on his abilities, fairly or not, and I do not want him to be penalise for his difficulties and for his abilities to be overlooked when it's something that we can work on and address. I also gave him a timeline (2 years), and gave him examples of other children we know who are obviously bright and delightful but have other learning difficulties and are in therapy for much longer. Finally I told him his strengths will increasingly come into play as he move up the grades (he is into technology and robotics) but first we have to get him there and mastering reading/writing is part of it.
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