By Marcia Hall
Children have specific personality traits. Some are shy by nature and others are outgoing. There are children who possess natural leadership abilities and those who find more joy in going along with the crowd. Some children can’t seem to be able to sit still or be quiet for longer than 10 seconds at a time, if that, while others could play silently with toys for hours without any trouble. With each of these traits there are both benefits and challenges for parents to overcome. Few of the challenges are more frustrating than working with a child who is “bossy,” however there are positive ways to redirect challenging behavior.
Get rid of the negative assumptions about bossy children. A child who is bossy most likely has strong leadership qualities and is very bright. When a child is bossy it usually means that she has great ideas and wants others to experience these ideas with her. For these reasons it is important to change the negative stigma associated with a bossy child and recognize that in time and if encouraged, a “bossy” child can become a great leader. This is especially true when tempered with compassion and empathy.
Model directives that are kind. Demonstrating positive behavior for any child is important, but even more so with a child who has bossy tendencies. A child with these kinds of leadership skills will soak up every word and behavior pattern she is exposed to. Parents with a child of this temperament will need to be extra careful with how they request things from her and how they respond to her demands.
Choose when you ask vs. when you request wisely. There is a very subtle difference between asking a child to do something and requesting or requiring it. Because you want to model kind directives, if at all possible you should politely ask the child to do things like pick up her shoes or put on her coat. Give her plenty of time to get the job you are asking her to do done because children who have “bossy” tendencies need to be self-motivated to do just about anything. If the request is not optional or needs to be done in a hurry, make that clear from the beginning by looking her in the eye and calmly stating, “I need you do to _________ and I need you to do it quickly.” You can even give the reason why you need it done so quickly. It may seem like stopping to make sure your child clearly understands your needs will take too long, but in reality it will save time in the end. In this circumstance, using “I” statements instead of “you” statements is very important. For instance, you should say “I need you to put the toys away” instead of “you need to put the toys away.”
Do not always let the child get her way. A child with “bossy” tendencies will expect to always get her own way. Often times these children are first born or only children and are used to getting to set the schedules and decide what to play with. It is very important that she does not get her way all the time. It can be challenging for parents to continually say no to her because she is so persistent and can easily wear adults out. It may seem easier to just give in and let her have her way rather than fight with her to do something different. However, it is even more important for the “bossy” child to have to learn that she will not always get her way in life.
Avoid making older siblings your “eyes” for their younger siblings. Older siblings can be very helpful to their parents in many ways, but this can easily turn into a problem with a child who tends to be “bossy.” What was once a helpful set of eyes when you could not be in the room with a baby or toddler can quickly turn into a tattle tale and a child who thinks she is in charge of her younger siblings.
Ignore tattling. It is important to teach your child that if her sibling or someone else in the house is in real danger, you should be notified. However, it should also be clear that tattling because she does not like the way someone is doing something is not allowed or encouraged. She should try to work out the disagreement with her sibling without your interference and with kind and calm words, not by yelling or physically hurting the other child. By encouraging her to work it out by herself and asking her to listen to the other child’s point of view, you will be teaching her empathy and compassion.
Give her more control over herself. All children need some control over their lives. Often, a child who is bossy to other children and even adults is in need of extra control over her life. Because she is unable to control certain life events she is reaching to regain control of other areas and people in her life. It is not always possible to give her control over where she lives, where she goes each day, what other siblings or adults are in the house or how long she can play. In order to counteract the loss of control in these areas, try giving her greater control in other areas. Give her more choices about what and when she eats, where and when she sleeps, what clothes she wears, what she plays with and even who she plays with.
“Bossy child” is an extremely negative phrase for a child who is seeking to share her ideas and excitement about life with others. Use these ideas to not only help your child become a positive and compassionate leader, but also to see her for the brilliant child that she is.