Q+A: My 9-year-old grandson often feels that his younger brother gets more attention than he does. How can I help him feel that he's getting the same amount of time and attention? | MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds

Q+A: My 9-year-old grandson often feels that his younger brother gets more attention than he does. How can I help him feel that he’s getting the same amount of time and attention?

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Posted in: Grade School, Parenting Concerns

Topics: Q+A

For answers to more caregiver questions about responding to kids’ big emotions in a healthy way, tune in to our “Ask Ellen” Q+A with Dr. Ellen Braaten.

My 9-year-old grandson often feels that his younger brother gets more attention than he does. How can I help him feel that he’s getting the same amount of time and attention?

Sharing time equally between kids is an age-old struggle for parents and grandparents. Your desire to spend time with each child is a good one. Kids need “alone” time with the special adults in their lives. That being said, it’s somewhat unrealistic to expect that you’ll have the same amount of time to spend with each – or that kids require the same amount of time from you. Parents and grandparents may sometimes feel guilty about this, but the fact is that kids require different types of attention at different times in their lives. It’s not a bad idea to talk about this with your 9-year-old grandson. Sometimes – in fact, often – we don’t get what someone else has.

A 9-year-old is old enough to articulate what he needs – and as the song says, you can’t always get what you want, but you might be able to get what you need. That’s a good question to ask.

You can use words like this: “Billy, you seem upset that your brother is getting more attention. It’s normal to feel that way. What do you need right now to make you feel better? Are there things we can do together that might help?”

Sometimes talking to him and acknowledging his feelings is enough. He might come up with something that you can do together. Other times, you might find that his expectations are unrealistic, and you can talk about that with him so his expectations can be more in line with reality.

Finally, think about ways that you might enjoy spending time with him alone. During this pandemic, these times might be spent online or outside. There are many online games such as Monopoly that can be played virtually with grandparents who are far away. Look into games that are appropriate for his age group, and set up a regular time to play.

Thanks for visiting the Clay Center. We are entirely funded by visitors like you. We receive no financial support from Massachusetts General Hospital or Harvard Medical School. Your support of our work helps us to continue to produce content on mental health topics that support the emotional well-being of young people everywhere.

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Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD, is executive director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at  Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, and former co-director for the MGH Clay Cente...

To read full bio click here.