Living with Children: How to handle alpha-male 8-year-old

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QUESTION: Our eight-year-old, the oldest of three, is often rude to his siblings. I know some sibling conflict is normal, but this seems excessive. I hear him multiple times per day tell his younger brothers how annoying they are. In addition, he often yells at them to stop whatever they are doing that he doesn’t like. We’ve asked him to stop berating and yelling at them and have him rephrase his disrespectful words, but his disrespect doesn’t seem to be improving and it’s beginning to drive us up the wall. Thanks for any advice you can give us.

ANSWER: Not all sibling conflict is equal. Sometimes, sibling conflict is a primarily a matter of jealousy. I don’t think that explains what’s going on here. In other cases, sibling conflict is all about territorial disputes, but again, I don’t think that explains your eight-year-old’s attempts to dominate his brothers. Occasionally, sibling conflict is largely a function of personality differences. Unlike most relationships, one doesn’t choose his or her siblings. Some siblings simply don’t “mesh” very well. That may be the case with your boys, but if my intuitions are still serving me reasonably well, I doubt it.

Your description causes me to believe that your oldest is merely establishing and constantly reminding his younger brothers that he, and he only, is the Alpha Male Child; that he is their Superior in all matters and they are expected to always and without question do as he commands. Ironically, however, he must also establish that they are completely incompetent to properly do anything he commands; therefore, he must constantly correct and berate like a stereotypical Marine Drill Instructor from the good old days when Marine Drill Instructors were truly scary.

Dispel any worry you may be having over the possibility that your older son’s Alpha Male Child behavior toward his underlings is going to scar them psychologically. First, it is my belief that at some point in his life, every male needs a Marine Drill Instructor. Second, you’re describing normal boy behavior that will eventually run its course. By the time your eldest is a teenager, the likelihood is significant that his younger brothers will idolize him.

Meanwhile, the question begs: What, pray tell, should you do when your oldest son’s Alpha Male Child, Marine Drill Instructor behavior becomes disruptive to the peace of the family? This may be counterintuitive, but for disturbances of the family’s peace, I recommend that you put all three boys — and yes, even if only two are directly involved — in the half-bath (aka, “powder room”) for thirty excruciating minutes.

I virtually guarantee that while taking a powder in the powder room will not stop your son’s Alpha Male Child behavior, the boys will quickly learn that avoiding mutual confinement requires that they maintain their conflict at a low volume, which is really all you can realistically hope for under the circumstances. They will work it out, but in their time rather than yours.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond: parentguru.com, johnrosemond.com. Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]

3 COMMENTS

  1. Unfortunately julieptc, Mr. Rosemond will probably never see your response. He’s made his living by dispensing his antiquated parenting style, and again, unfortunately, he speaks to a segment of the population that seems to enjoy his schtick. Cal Beverly will let most any kind of garbage run here – as long as it’s heavily conservative.

  2. Respectfully Mr. Rosemond, this is the most ridiculous response to a parent regarding a child’s aggressive behavior that I can imagine. The outcome of your prescribed solution (locking children in a bathroom) will only result in further bullying of the younger children and the threat of punishment if they tell on their older brother (telling them to “maintain their conflict at a low volume.”) In essence, you are suggesting that the Alpha Male behavior is okay as long as the conflict is hidden or quiet. I believe you are creating an “Alpha Monster.”

    First of all, parents are the Alpha leaders in a family, or at least should be. Being an Alpha is not synonymous with screaming and put-downs. Instead, it means a perceived hierarchy of leadership. Tolerating these negative behavioral interactions among these siblings is a quick path to creating a big brother bully. The parent should enforce logical consequences for the overreaching Alpha child and the child should respect the boundaries of his siblings if he wants to interact with them. Further, if he is mistreating his siblings at home, I guarantee he is treating his peers the same at school. As a teacher of gifted children for 30 years, I have seen my share of Alpha children. Not teaching the correct way to interact with others is damaging for the child in the long run and even more damaging for the others he targets.

    Finally, I’m not sure locking children in a bathroom is ever going to result in a teachable moment. Instead, spend more time with the child and talk about respectful ways to interact. This older child obviously has some leadership potential. Teach that child appropriate ways to lead others. Involve him in activities where he gets to help others younger than he is by being a positive role model rather than a tyrant. Applaud his ability to lead but show him more appropriate styles of leadership. Mr. Rosemond, this case is far from hopeless but I believe it will take some deliberate parental guidance and an open bathroom door.

    • Kathleen, I think John Rosemond (JR) offered a good perspective and teaching moment for both, the “Alpha Male Child” and the younger siblings. I also think you offer a good perspective on how to take advantage of the teaching moment. As you stated, “the parent should enforce logical consequences for the overreaching Alpha child.” JR suggested just that,” put all three boys — and yes, even if only two are directly involved — in the half-bath (aka, “powder room”) for thirty excruciating minutes.” Your reinforcing teaching moment comes when the boys leave the “powder room.” Also, the boys are making shared memories and will probably laugh about it in years to come. Though these may seem small lessons in civility, they have great consequences later in life if they go unchecked and are never learned. I came from a three male sibling (no female siblings) family with a dominating Alpha Male Father and an Alpha Male Older Brother. After seven decades, my brothers and I respect and even revere our shared and common interests as well as our independence. I recommend strict and loving parenting.

      Please note: JR didn’t suggest “locking children in a bathroom,” he suggested “putting” them in a bathroom. There is a vast difference between locking and putting.