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Q: Our Son with ADHD Hyperfocuses on Proving He’s ‘Better’ Than His Little Brother

When sibling competition becomes one-sided and obsessive, it often happens for a reason: A child with ADHD is feeling inferior to their neurotypical brother or sister and feels compelled to prove they are “better.” Here, learn how to respond in a way that protects relationships and everyone’s self-esteem.

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Q: “My 13-year-old son with ADHD is always in competition with and hyperfocused on his little brother, who does not have ADHD. He has to be the best at everything! He can get very angry and really struggle to let things go with his brother. He becomes hyperfocused on his brother. This goes beyond sibling rivalry. We have tried everything: We role play when not in the heat of the moment, we talk about using words to describe our feelings, we intervene, and try not intervening. I feel the cause is that he is insecure about himself and it all comes out with his brother. I think he feels his brother is better and he has to prove he is not. I feel he can hold it together with his friends, but then lets it all out with his brother. What can we do?”

A: “I think your intuition is really good here. I think your son does feel insecure and he feels his brother is better at some things, and this is his way of compensating. I think the best thing you can do is help your younger son understand why his brother does this, and also the best way to handle it when his brother obsesses over proving he’s better. The best thing for him to do is take the power out of it by saying, ‘OK’ or ‘fine.’ What you need to do is this: stop giving attention to this behavior. Every time you try to reason with him, you’re reinforcing a behavior you don’t want. What we want to do is not give attention to unwanted behaviors and praise desired behaviors.”


ADHD and Sibling Competition: More Resources

1. Read This: “My Kids Fight Non-Stop!”
2. Read This: Parenting the Other Child
3. Read This: The Effects of ADHD on Siblings
4. Read This: When ADHD Drains and Strains Sibling Relationships

Ryan Wexelblatt, LCSW is the facilitator of the ADHD Dude Facebook Group and YouTube channel.

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