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Life, learning, sharing, etc. when one child is dominating

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 

Thoughts?  Experiences?  


Does your family have one particular child who tries to be the dominant force in your choices, your daily life, over other children at home?


I will give my input, but I want to keep it as general as possible, because I don't see this so much as a problem (and I doubt it will do away, either!), but simply as something we live with and learn with and try to balance everyone's needs and wants. 


But I admit, it takes patience in spades, something that gets tested regularly, and I would love to hear from others who have BTDT, or who are finding themselves in the same situation.   


I want this thread to be less about me and more about everyone.


ETA:  Note that this is posted in the Unschooling forum, for those seeing this on the New Posts lists.

post #2 of 20

Bumping for input. Anyone have anything to share?  shy.gif

post #3 of 20

Mine have both gone through phases of being that child. Crash can be just downright controlling if the people around him aren't strong willed too. Spritely goes in for manipulation. They used to be great together, when they were little. Around age 8-10 they were regularly exposed to some truly horrible influences and treated very badly. It only lasted a few months, and that was like 5 years ago, now....but the effects have yet to completely wear off. It was awful at first, but they are almost back to the positive and supportive siblings they once were.


How do I deal with it? I'm just incredibly stubborn and have no patience for any of it. I wouldn't let anyone else get away with treating my husband, my children, other children I'm around, or me like that....and I won't let another of my children do so either. I'm able to get into much more productive dialogs with my kids about this kind of thing, than I would with others, though. lol Those controlling and manipulative attitudes are an attempt to feel powerful, and often a reaction to feeling helpless or that their lives are controlled by outside forces. I address 2 key issues with them.


1) Internal - Feeling like they are in control of themselves and their own lives. I remind them that even if they get other people to do something, it only happened because the other person chose to. Just like they cannot control other people, others cannot control them. When I ask (or even tell) them to do the dishes, and they do so...it's because they chose to do so. I can't actually physically MAKE them do anything. Neither can anyone else. If they don't like the choices they've been making, they need to make different ones. Then, we often get into discussions about the areas of their lives that they feel aren't under their control. What strategies can we think of to address the issues? What other choices can they make? What are the likely consequences of continuing the way things are, versus changing their choices in the future.


2) External - This has more to do with the show of power. Sometimes controlling or manipulative behavior is because they want to show someone (or everyone) that they are powerful. It's a kind of self defense strategy meant to show that it will be difficult or impossible to control them, so others won't try. For this, I explain to them that this is a common response. It's normal and instinctive, but it's not very effective unless you're dealing with a caveman. You see, because this response is so common, people that actually do want to control you will see it as a big target. People try to control others because they WANT power, not because they have it. Stopping something, or tearing it down doesn't take much. Think about a rolling ball. If you don't do anything at all, it will eventually stop on it's own. Or, you could take the minimal energy to get in it's way. Keeping a ball rolling will wear you out though. It takes so much energy that you can't possibly do it forever without help. Think about building a tower of blocks. A gentle swipe of the hand, and it's nothing. That's not power. Power is building it higher and higher. Power is the strength of the blocks on the bottom, holding all that weight. If a person wants to show others that they HAVE power, they do it by building and supporting. Then we get into discussions of ways they can build up and support the people in their lives, or their community or home or whatever it was they were interfering with by trying to control or manipulate others. Encouraging another child to choose the game. Then complimenting their choice. See how the other child reacts. How do you think they feel? Did it take more thought and effort to inspire those good feelings in another, or to make them feel sad and unimportant? So, which is the choice of a powerful person? 

post #4 of 20

My dd5 is very much this child.  Not so much with other children outside the home, but with her sister, with me, with any adult she knows really well...


I'm thinking it is just personality and is an extension of a part of her that is strong and unique and interesting, but it definitely goes too far sometimes.


I know that part of it has been heightened by being around certain adults who use the same kind of behavior, in some ways i feel I can't help her completely until she is not under the influence of people like that.  Which is not possible right now.


Other parts of it I think are my own failures.  I believe I was so interested in helping her to have positive self-esteem that I overpraised her and she displays selfishness related to wanting to get praised for everything she does or to make others look bad or wrong or just to get things going her way because she doesn't want to compromise...she is slowly learning that it is not my job or anyone else's to give her everything she wants.  And I did go along with her ideas and allow her to dictate things some times just because I thought it was cute how strong-willed she was and I was curious to see what she had in mind...despite her rudeness and inconsideration.


I think another reason it happens is because she'd learn something and become so good at it and really want to do it, that I'd just let her do things and it makes her feel like she's an authority figure and certain situations are her domain.  (I'll have to get back to this I'm tired and not making sense right now)


The way I deal with it though is that... I am trying to affirm her actions, rather than praise them.  I try my best to give parameters and guidance and use acknowledgement and compassion for everyone's sake and help her to see from different perspectives and also be sure I can get feedback from her and try to see from her perspective as well.

post #5 of 20
Thread Starter 

Thanks, folks, for your input.  incorrigible, you gave me a lot to think about.  Clearly you've had plenty to think about, yourself!  I especially love your thoughts on power--we will work on that.


DD1 has always been strong willed and was a high-needs baby.  So, it is incredibly difficult for her to concede to another's desire.  You might as well be scratching her eyes out, it's all the same to her.  We deal with it, but it can be tiresome.  I hate that sometimes dealing with it means overriding her while she is screaming and angry and vulnerable.  I hate that kind brute force approach, but sometimes giving in is unacceptable--like when she won't let me go outside on a gorgeous day because she wants company inside (and she's had it all day!)  


I've had moments when dh was working that I have sat basking in the sun, being screamed at by her to come inside.  Yes, sometimes it is a choice between that and no fighting inside, and I will take the screaming and tears.  (To be fair, dd2 has done this as well.  She is no slouch when it comes to demands, she just doesn't seem to need to control everything.)   I do not want to give in to this.


At the same time, giving in and giving her some power has helped in other areas.  She's not as demanding about the video choice each morning since I've relaxed the TV restrictions.  It used to be only videos in the AM, now we are just as likely to pop in a DVD in the afternoon.  Though we are watching more TV, there has been more peace.  We still have a ways to go on family movie nights.  But in this case, some of her resistance comes from being unable to tune out the TV when she's doing other things, and I get that.  (She also needs to be near family, and we've had many talks about choosing the bedroom as the place to play quietly-- that's a no-go for both of them.)


She can be a difficult child.  In my house, what breaks my heart is dd's need to not only be the best, but make sure others are much worse.  That means her sister.  I am saddened that dd2 is growing up hearing her big sister say such things about her.  We've had plenty of talks at calm moments.  DD1 is incredibly talented, but she needs to be the Best, and she wants *me* to admit it--meaning the best of the two of them.  It doesn't help that dd2 doesn't get in as much trouble, and both think I play favorites to the other.  That brews a lot of discord in the house.  


DD1 is going to need a lot of soul-searching as she grows, I think.  I'm trying to be more demonstrative outside of situations that might require praise or something else.  I'm trying to give extra attention when they aren't asking for it.  I'm hoping that it will ease those times that she struggles.  It's not like she's showing no signs of improvement.  She has shown moments of incredible maturity.  But it seems to come more slowly than I need it to.

post #6 of 20

It sounds like she doesn't have a good understanding of boundaries, and deals poorly with frustration.  Whether or not you go outside is not something she gets to choose-- she can choose how to react, but you get to choose what you do for yourself.  How well her sister does at something has nothing to do with her achievements.  I would do a lot of talking with her about where she ends and other people start, and I would make sure I was very careful about modeling healthy boundaries for/with her.  Sometimes I think radical unschooling can be interpreted in a way where parents, and mothers in particular have no boundaries in their relationships with their children in an overly permissive way, as an alternative to being authoritarian, but I believe there's another path where the parent isn't under the child's control, and the child isn't under the parents' control, but both are working together.  But in order to get there, everyone needs to recognize where their power and responsibilities lay.  


I would consider it her responsibility not to scream at someone for failing to go along with her plans for them.  That's an unacceptable way to treat anyone, including her mother.  I would consider it your responsibility to tell her that you won't be treated that way (much as you would hope she would tell a friend or future SO who screamed at her that she will not be treated that way).  


I'd also talk with her about ways to cope when she is frustrated because life isn't going along with her vision for it.  


I writing this to be helpful-- I hope it's not too harsh.  I have enjoyed your posts over the years and know you're a good mom.  

post #7 of 20
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by onatightrope View Post

It sounds like she doesn't have a good understanding of boundaries, and deals poorly with frustration.   I would do a lot of talking with her about where she ends and other people start, and I would make sure I was very careful about modeling healthy boundaries for/with her.  

This is an interesting observation.  I would agree with both.


I think the combination of having strong-willed children and my being a mover, not a fighter, has resulted in my being something of a pushover and unhealthy boundaries.  We work on it, slowly.  Sometimes I simply it's just a matter of a difference of a few months, when they become better able to understand what I'm asking for.  Like this morning--they finally started helping pull their breakfasts together.  A few weeks ago, this request still was interpreted as "I don't love you".  Today they finally heard what I was saying and helped--if not happily then without a fuss anyway.  


I got something of a hint recently that what I say and do means less than what they think I am implying.  I've noticed that when one of them gets something, the question is "Why don't I get any?" when the question really should be "Can I have some to?".  I'm trying to teach them (dd1 especially) that the same should happen when one is getting some attention-- her question needs to be "Can I have some, too?" and not "How come she gets more attention than me?"


About going outside and the screaming: it hasn't helped that we moved to a new house with a raw yard.  This is a huge part of the problem.  No, she doesn't get to scream at people.  But how to teach her not to?  Certainly, there is only so much screaming one person can take before screaming back or otherwise losing their patience.  They hear this from me (*do* they, though?)  It has helped that I yell less.  Yes, I accept responsibility for the yelling.   The result of a frazzled mother with her boundaries so full of holes she is leaking her life force out of them and they still want more of you like little baby cannibal spiders....... orngtongue.gif  Healing has come as they mature.  Dedication to yoga every morning has helped me begin to heal the rest.


And slowly, we will put our garden back together for her to enjoy.  She already has a section picked our for her to garden, and we are beginning to choose seeds, transplant more from the old house.  I am relieved, too.


We will be starting with Girl Scouts soon, and I'm hoping that this will help in learning about cooperation.  It's not why we're joining--the dd1 especially is excited about it being all-girl.  In the past she has been incapable of being around other children, probably because of their unpredictability.  Then she did a 180 and was thrilled when other children came around.  Now she reacts the same way about *boys*.  I think the old issues are still lurking--boys her age are energetic and unpredictable and in the heat of play fairly oblivious to the space of others-- added to the age appropriate dislike of the opposite sex.  My fingers are crossed that this will help a little in everything she needs--empowerment, cooperation, friendship.  Why she isn't picking those things up at home, I can't understand.  


But then, I say "I want to go outside" and she hears "I'm abandoning you because I don't love you."  Sigh!

post #8 of 20
Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post


But then, I say "I want to go outside" and she hears "I'm abandoning you because I don't love you."  Sigh!


That right there is her not seeing where she ends and you start-- she's making your wish to be outside all about her.  


I would tempted to challenge it, because it would make me pretty darn angry if my kids treated my every act as a test of love, and also because that just isn't how healthy love works.  I have and do show them I love them in a thousand ways, but love doesn't mean never ever doing anything for oneself.  In that situation, I think I would say overtly "I love you, but I won't spend all day inside for you, because being outside makes me happy and I love me too." I could also see verbalizing things like "Part of me would like it if your Dad was here snuggling beside me on the sofa right now, but I know he's out doing X that makes him happy, and I love him, so I want him to be happy."  


As for the screaming, I think I would explain to her that her screaming at me doesn't make me love her less, but neither does it make me want to spend time with her, because I don't like being screamed at, even by people I love.  I think there is a natural inclination to distance oneself, at least briefly, from people who are being nasty, and protecting her from that natural consequence now will not help her later.  

post #9 of 20

Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post

I've noticed that when one of them gets something, the question is "Why don't I get any?" when the question really should be "Can I have some to?". 



This is a great example. I think finding the right language can be really helpful at articulating boundaries -- even if you are willing to overlook or move the boundaries. There's a difference between being a pushover and being willing, upon being asked, to move over. I too am a mover rather than a fighter, and can easily accommodate others so thoroughly in order to avoid conflict that I end up having lost track of my boundaries and feeling resentful. But if I point out that there is a boundary there which I am on this occasion willing to cross in order to do a favour, they tend to notice and appreciate what I'm doing. We all feel better, and they are less likely to forget about the boundary in future.


For instance, if one of my kids is whining because they want something I re-articulate the whine as a polite request and it totally changes the dynamic. For instance last night my youngest had just got into bed when she realized she didn't have her headphones for her iPod, which are her plan B if she wakes up and can't get back to sleep by reading, and she sort of moaned "I forgot my headphones.... I need them..." So I said, in a chipper voice "Oh. Are you asking if I would ever so nicely go and get them for you because you're all cozy and tired?" And she giggled and said yes. And then she said a lovely "Thanks" when I brought them, and explained that it was only because she was extra tired from being sick that she didn't want to get them herself.


It works just as well with my teens.


"I need a packed supper tomorrow."


"Oh. Do you mean 'Mom, is there any possibility that you could find some time in your insanely busy morning to pack me a supper? I'd really appreciate it.'?"




"Okay. I'll do my best. It might just be some leftovers."


"That's okay. Thanks."


If I just sighed and acquiesced, I'm pretty sure there would be scant appreciation that there was a boundary of personal responsibility there that I was agreeing to cross as a favour, and no gratitude. And I also think that rephrasing things in a way that is more respectful of others and their boundaries makes the point that what we say and how we say it can hurt other people's feelings. 


Sometimes I can remind my kids by saying "Rewind, edit, replay" if they have said something in a hurtful or thoughtless. If they're in the right mood, anyway.



post #10 of 20

This is such a fascinating discussion! I don't want to crash the forum as a non-unschooler but as someone who tries to parent as consensually as possible (iykwim) and who sometimes really struggles with the interaction between my kids, its been so useful to read. Thanks! 

post #11 of 20
Thread Starter 

I did not intend to block the thread from those who do not identify as unschoolers.  What I intended was to keep the conversation among those who understand decisions made that are typical of unschooling families, families that work with the consensus model (which we are not, BTW, though we try to be as closely as possible with two strong-willed girls, the older one being the dominating force in the family and the source of the thread topic.)  Those who understand both homeschooling and unschooling and the intensity of relationships from being with your older kids all day every day, and the issues that come along with those.  


I most definitely think you qualify, Fillyjonk.  Crash away!


I also did not intend to have this thread be all about my kids and my situation.  I most definitely wanted to hear from others and the similar struggles they face which might have a different flavor than mine.  So, in that light, I am glad this has been helpful so far.

post #12 of 20

My ODD is highly sensitive and can often be the dominate child in our home.  She has always had trouble with empathy towards others and still sometimes will throw a fit if she does not get her way.  As she has gotten older she has mellowed a bit but just yesterday she had a small melt down when a friend she was baking brownies with was using a different pan than she thought they should use.  She just freaked out and said she didn't want to do it at all anymore and she could not explain to the friend why.  ODD does this with her siblings as well but she is more aggressive and will sometimes yell and hit or push them if they do something she doesn't like.  Because of this her younger siblings often will do things her way just to avoid her tantrums or they will avoid her altogether.  When it comes to going places outside the house ODD is very dominating as well.  If the activity we are going to is not specifically for ODD she will whine and throw a tantrum.  She is now able to be left home so that situation has improved.  When ODD gets upset I stay calm and ask her to step away from the situation for a minute (if possible) until she can calm herself down.  Then we talk about what caused her to get upset and what she could do differently next time.  It is not perfect.  Sometimes she doesn't want to talk and I never make her.  I dont know how helpful I am but I do understand what you are going through.

post #13 of 20
Thread Starter 

ambersrose, how old is your daughter now?  

post #14 of 20

9 years old, how old is your ODD Sweet Silver?

edited to add:  She is not left home alone, my mother in law moved in with us about nine months ago and is often home to stay with her.  

Edited by ambersrose - 2/3/13 at 10:01am
post #15 of 20
Thread Starter 

She just turned 8 yesterday.  I'd say she has matured quite a bit, but that the intensity of what remains is past age-appropriate, even though I think it is still "normal", if you get my meaning?  I think turning 8 has been a huge psychological boost for her, at least short term.  We have ongoing conversations like you do.  Some day what we say is going to click.  For example, her nixing anything on TV she doesn't approve of is one of the prime motivators for our nixing open bedtimes for now.  


I think the way described your daughter--




My ODD is highly sensitive and can often be the dominate child in our home.  She has always had trouble with empathy towards others and still sometimes will throw a fit if she does not get her way.  As she has gotten older she has mellowed a bit....

--is spot on, and I wonder whether there isn't some sensory or other mild issues going on that exacerbate the issue.  I know I have trouble with sensations when I am upset and angry or frustrated.



post #16 of 20

The book The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron really helped me understand ODD (and myself) better.  The author has a website with some information, http://www.hsperson.com/pages/child.htm .  I really like that the book normalizes sensory sensitivities instead of turning them into some sort of disorder.

post #17 of 20

Reading this thread is making me feel a bit better. I was coming to post something similar, although mine was not framed nearly as articulately. It was more like "ready to give up!" LOL.


I have to describe my oldest son (who is 9 1/2) as incredibly domineering over all of us. I have two other children, and am about to have a newborn in a few weeks. 


Honestly, I wondered whether to post these concerns in unschooling or in spirituality. And here's why... I feel like I really want to honor the paths that my children are choosing in as many ways as I can. And I have a strong belief that my children made the choice to come to this family before they were born. Of course, I can't know what their reasons were. 


As I was reading through this thread, Oldest DS came in to apologize for treating us all so badly. He had asked to go to Target for a couple of Pokemon booster packs. He didn't get cards that he wanted, and so he was absolutely horrible to all of us. screaming at my 3 yo DD for her music choice in the car, hitting 6 yo DS even though HE didn't get any special cards, either! Arg! And this happens most of the time when I agree to get them cards.


I also value equanimity. If one kids asks for cards, I get them for both. My younger boy is always so thrilled to get cards, he never complains. Daniel would complain about the service if we were invited to dinner at the White House. I know that is just his personality. It is just so very hard. And my patience is less bc I am in pain most of the time, being really big and with constant nausea and heartburn. 


I explained to oldest DS just now that I would have more MW appts (weekly, now that we are toward the end), and I dreaded telling him bc I am so afraid of how angry he gets when he "has to" go somewhere. I explained that bc of our schooling choice, we sometimes have to be flexible about others' needs. Well, then he just gets angry AT THE BABY. Oh, Lord have mercy.


Please know that he is sweet, sensitive, and I love him so much (as do his bro, sis, and dad), but, my God, is he hard.


I am sure it will come as no surprise that he has many food issues, and we have to take many supplements, etc. In fairness, we are all doing a lot for our health and oldest DS is the only person like this.


He says many things to suggest he feels "less than". :-(


Oh, sorry. I know this is the most disjointed post ever. That is a marker of today. :-/

post #18 of 20
Thread Starter 

Thanks for hopping on to the thread with your story, velveeta.  The more, the, ummmm...... merrier?  shrug.gif

post #19 of 20
Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post

Thanks for hopping on to the thread with your story, velveeta.  The more, the, ummmm...... merrier?  shrug.gif
LOL! I try to remember that we sometimes have good days, too. So, here's one for the record... Right now, all three kids are playing nicely with respect for each other, while they allow me to rest in here! I have been trying to outline and explain our plan for the day (even just my intentions), and that has been helping. When DS feels he is in my priority queue, he is less inclined to be fearful that he won't get what he wants/needs. Thank god for good days.
post #20 of 20
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