Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: In the middle of nowhere, at the centre of everything.
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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.
Mountain mama to one great kid and three great grown-ups