The oldest child demands all the attention

Stepmother: “My husband has two sons, ages 17 and 14. The eldest is a champion of attention. He has ADHD, a poor impulse control, and heart on his tongue. He decides at the table what is discussed. The youngest is more reserved, an introvert. Can learn well, has his affairs in order. When we go somewhere to visit, it is always 45 minutes after the oldest.

“Growing up, I also had an older brother who was always the center of attention. I survived. I still suffer from that unseen to this day. How can we prevent that in the youngest? We already explicitly ask him about his day, and his opinion.

“Should we tell this concern to him, or do we make it a problem that he may not feel? He seems to be comfortable in his own skin.”

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Help the eldest with speaking time

Marga Akkerman: “You can also see the demand for attention from the eldest when they cannot verbally control themselves. Not bad for someone with ADHD. His environment can help him, especially his father. At the table, father takes the lead, like a chairman. After a reasonable speaking time, he stops the oldest and gives the youngest the floor. Make it clear to the oldest in advance that you will do this because he is now of the age to learn that he cannot speak continuously. Others also want to be able to say something, and will like it if they are listened to. You are going to help him with that.

“Let his father be especially active in this. He will be able to respond more directly and clearly, because he does not have the ballast from the past that you bring with you. I think it’s a good approach that you give the youngest focused attention. Don’t take it for granted that he feels the same way you used to at home. You can safely disregard your own concern when adopting this approach. The fact that he is comfortable in his own skin indicates that the situation is probably more of a problem for you than for him.”

Discuss it with the youngest

Tischa Neve: “Often parents don’t realize that a lot of attention for one child has consequences for another. The fact that you are aware of this is already a gain. Create moments when you or the father can spend some time alone with the youngest.

“I would indeed discuss the family dynamics with the youngest, he is old enough for that. You can say, “Your brother demands more attention than you, we want to let you know we get it if it’s not always easy for you.” You don’t have to problematize the eldest child, nor ascribe to the youngest feelings that he may not have. I would not say: ‘that must be very bad for you’, you are projecting something of yourself onto him. It may be that he subconsciously asks less attention in order not to be difficult too, and that this feels good for him at the moment, but not anymore. Then it is good for him to know that he can come back to that at some point. The most important thing is that he feels that sometimes he too can be a nuisance, or get angry at his brother’s attention-seeking.”