Parenting Solutions: Bossy (page 2)

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 31, 2010

Signs and Symptoms

Here are several warning signs that your child's bossiness just may be affecting her emotional and social development. For the most accurate appraisal, observe your child's interactions with different kids in a variety of settings (at day care, at the neighbors, on the soccer field, at scouts).

  • Your child dictates the activities, makes the agenda, and creates the game plan.
  • She starts to boss you and tell you what to do.
  • Things have to go her way; she plays only by her rules.
  • She rarely negotiates or alters her desires to accommodate others; compromise is unacceptable.
  • Friends don't return her calls, invite her back, or want to come over.
  • Parents, coaches, scout leaders, or teachers label her "bossy" or "domineering."
  • Clueless that other people feel pushed or slighted by her behavior.

The Solution

Step 1. Early Intervention

  • Identify why this is happening. Your first step is to figure out the reasons your child is a little dictator so that you can find the best ways to temper her behavior and improve her ability to get along. Check the reasons that may apply to your child:
    • Mimicking. Your child is used to being bossed around, so she's modeling what she's experienced.
    • Receiving reinforcement. Someone is intentionally (or unintentionally) reinforcing the bossiness by labeling it as assertive, confident, or outgoing, or as a leadership capability; or someone is just letting her always get her way.
    • Expected to take charge. She's assumed responsibility for taking care of others; may be hanging around kids who lack direction and need someone to "take charge."
    • Insecure. Your child is covering up for insecurities, low self-esteem, or perfectionism.
    • Needs power. She needs to feel a sense of power to compensate for being at the bottom of a pecking order among family or friends.
    • Picked on. Your child is frequently dominated by others; she's attempting to even the playing field.
    • Lacks social experiences. She really doesn't know how to get her opinions across in a friendly way.
    • Voiceless. Her ideas, feelings, and needs are frequently ignored.
    • Lacks empathy. Your child is still in an egocentric stage of development or lacks the ability to take another's perspective or to think of where the other person is coming from.

Talk to others who know your child well to get their opinion, and make your best guess as to why your child is so dictatorial. Is there one thing you could do to start the change?

  • Emphasize consensus. Dictators need to learn about democracy, so emphasize that in your home. In fact, enforce a new rule that for certain family decisions (vacation and restaurant choice, DVD rental, which TV show to watch, which board or video game to play), all members should be surveyed. Your child needs to learn democracy in action, so that she can apply it with her own friends.
  • Expect cooperation. Research shows that kids who demonstrate cooperative behaviors—sharing, taking turns, taking into consideration the requests of peers, and so on—usually do so because their parents clearly emphasized that they expected them to. So take time to spell out your ground rules for sharing and cooperation and explain them to your child. Then expect your kid to use them. Make sure you also emphasize why bossiness is not appreciated and how it turns people off.
One Simple Solution

Bossy kids put their agenda first. So tell your child to use the "you" word a bit more whenever she is with a peer: "What do you think?" "Which game do you want to play?" "What do you want to do first?" That simple tweak can start the change in your child so that she considers the needs and feelings of others.

Step 2. Rapid Response

  • Point out bossiness ASAP. The minute you hear or see your kid bossing friends or siblings (or you!), pull her aside and quietly point out what you see: "I notice you keep taking the controller from David." Don't accuse. Stay calm.
  • Remain calm. Domineering kids can be stubborn and strong willed, and if you are headstrong as well, the two of you may end up butting heads. So pick your battles, reduce your lectures, and remain respectful, so that you don't engage in a lot of unnecessary conflict. If you are a more submissive type, don't let this kid boss you around. Watch how you respond to your child so that you can determine the best approach to helping change her dictatorial approach.
  • Teach simple solutions to curb bossiness. Don't assume that your child knows how to change her domineering ways; instead show her a new response. Here are a few examples of solutions for bossiness to help you get started. Then watch your child a bit more carefully to identify the problem and then provide a solution.
  • Problem: Doesn't share. Solution: Explain taking turns to your child, why it's important, and then remind her of the expected behavior. "Remember, I expect you to share. If there's anything you really don't want to share, put it away before your friend comes. Otherwise you must let her have a turn."

    Problem: Dictates the game plan. Solution: Your new house rule is "the guest chooses the first activity"; from then on, choices are alternated.

    Problem: Doesn't realize she sounds bossy. Solution: Show her how to turn a bossy comment into a more tactful statement. Bossy: "We're going to shoot baskets." Tamer: "What would you like to play?" Bossy: "We're doing it my way." Tamer: "How about if we try it my way?"

    Problem: Unaware she's being bossy with a peer. Solution: Develop a private signal (pulling on your ear or touching your nose) so that the moment her bossiness kicks in, you signal to her to turn down her dictator mode.

    Problem: Doesn't consider the other person's view. Solution: Turn the experience into a teachable moment: "Kara never got a turn. How do you think she felt?" "You never asked Bill what he wanted to do. How do you think he felt?" "What do you think you can do next time so your friend has a say?" "What will you do to make sure Paul has a better time?"

  • Set a consequence if dictating continues. Your child needs to know you are serious about curbing her bossy streak. So if despite your efforts your child continues to be a dictator around peers, it's time to set a consequence. "Unless you can be less bossy, you won't be able to have Matt come over. Let's work on ways you can treat him more fairly."
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