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The ‘Alpha’ Child Dr. Thanni Omowunmi

What does it mean to be an ‘Alpha’ let alone an ‘Alpha Child’? when a person is referred to as the ‘alpha’, it means they are the dominant person in that context. Dominance is a characteristic some aspire to while others seem to assume that role seemingly by default. At the mention of the word ‘alpha’, an adult may come to mind, possibly a male adult but this is not always true. The alpha individual may be seen as the unspoken leader of the pack, a role that may be perceived as arrogance by yet another set of people.


Now, what do you do with an alpha child, how do you even know you have an alpha child on your hands? Well, if you have a child you seems to assume the unspoken ‘in charge’ role in the family, prefers to have things done their own way rather than being told what to do… you may very well have an alpha child on your hands. Children with this alpha persona may come across as difficult to deal with, stressful and frustrating to parent.

Another picture of an alpha child is the well mannered one who takes care and controls the affairs of the home in the absence of a caregiver or a parent. A child will unconsciously assume this role if the present parent is negligent or if the home is dysfunctional. For example, a child will assume a mothering role in the absence of a mother, a role that also includes making sure that the available parent is happy. A child in a home where the parenting is weak, dysfunctional, or non-existent will assume the alpha role to fill the parenting gap. Outside of the home this child just assumes the lead unconsciously whether that role is needed, welcomed or not. This is where it may get offensive because they may not know when to stop or give other people a chance.


When there is a group assignment, we can agree that the person who swoops in and gets the job done while the rest of us twiddle our thumbs is an actual hero. But what happens when everyone in the class has equal responsibilities but this one person just assumes they are the boss of everyone else, dishing out unwelcome responsibilities , and then get offended when you try to point it out to them.(can be exhausting right?!)

Before you hail the next alpha child you see for stepping up and taking care of his/her siblings when their parents are not around, please take a pause. A child stepping into the parenting role to fill a gap does more harm than good in the long run. They are too young to be saddled with such responsibility for which they have limited mental, emotional, and psychological resources to fulfil in the first place. They are more likely to tenaciously hang on to this role unless a capable adult can reassure them and successfully take it back.


The happy and in-control alpha child does not necessarily enjoy the role he/she has to assume, in fact it should come as no surprise if you find out that that same child feels unhappy, overwhelmed, and intensely attached to the role they assume. Their sense of self becomes defined by the role they assume so even though they assume the role of the ‘pack leader’ in different contexts and are quite happy and efficient doing so, they may be hiding stress, anxiety, low self esteem, and insecurity.


Do you think you are an alpha child? As an alpha child you may find yourself taking on too much, being overly responsible for people and situations, whether or not your own needs are met. You may need time to come to terms with why you needed to assume this role in the first place, grieve the childhood that was lost or missed out on. You may need to share how you feel, or even time to catch up on the childhood fun you missed.


If you are parenting an alpha child, you may be grateful for the ‘help’ the child offers, but please take a moment to consider the possibility of your child having to step up into a mothering role, among other things in an attempt to fill a void. Consider the options of reviewing your parenting style, be consistent in your parenting role, strengthen boundaries. Focus more on what your child needs rather than wants, strive to establish stability at home, read between the lines, look beyond the feigned independence and the ‘I-really do-not-need-you’ stance. It may be a reflection of the family system and that is where the real information lies.

The goal in parenting an alpha child is re-establishing your role as the parent or leader of the home, this would encourage the alpha child to relinquish their struggle for dominance.