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Dominating Behavior in a Child

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

A dominant child will push to see just how much power she can accumulate, whether at home, school or play group. You might notice dominating behavior during her first year of life, and watch it strengthen over time, especially if you don’t assert your parental dominance. By the time she reaches kindergarten and elementary school, her dominating behavior can be so entrenched you have difficulty regaining control.

Natural Leader

Some kids excel, problem solve and display a motivation to succeed. Their natural leadership qualities encourage less extroverted children to follow along behind like ducks in a row. If this sounds like your child, he might attempt to dominate anyone who challenges his leadership, according to Thomas Farmer and Cristin Hall, bullying experts at Education.com. Your child could aggressively assert control physically or use more subtle measures, such as marginalizing, starting rumors or gossiping about the challenger, winning the challenger over with charm or using body language to intimidate her. Verbal domination is most frequently used, according to a study on classroom peer persuasion presented at the 1990 annual meeting of the Speech Communication Association.

Elder Child

The oldest child can dominate her siblings, initially by size and ability, and later by insisting that age leads. If you aren’t present, she can get away with it if she has a strong personality and her siblings are used to giving in. You might play into this by putting her in charge of a younger sibling while you complete a task or step out of the room for a few minutes, according to child behavioral therapist James Lehman. If the child is generally responsible and willing to follow the rules, this can serve your needs. If not, gain control of the child by holding her accountable to the rules, following through with logical consequences when defiance or excessive domination occurs and using a behavior contract that spells out the rules and consequences.

Bully or Leader?

Sometimes there is a fine line between being a bully and being a leader. The bully holds tight reins and feels the need to challenge anyone who questions his authority. The leader can also wield control, but might listen and accept suggestions from peers. You can discourage bullying and encourage cooperative leadership by appointing roles for peer group members or siblings and insisting that everyone have a chance to lead. This strategy encourages the dominant child to tone down the strong behavior in favor of sharing the top position.

Defusing Dominating Behavior

If your child desires control, she could simply assume it as if she has every right to do so. She could order peers or sibling around like she is the queen, and they may give in to her rather than confront her. She could even try it with you, demanding her way and holding her breath or throwing a tantrum when you don’t see things her way. You can defuse her dominating behavior by giving her something to be in charge of, suggests family therapist and author, Gary Smalley. Say, “You can be in charge of straightening your room” or “How would you like to be in charge of deciding the kind of pizza will we order tonight?” Designating a small amount of control can leave you in charge of the more important things.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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