Parenting Solutions: Bossy (page 3)
Tells everyone what to do in a dictatorial and inconsiderate manner, is overly controlling, doesn't listen or consider friends' needs or desires
The Change to Parent For
Your child learns habits that temper her bossy streak, help her consider the needs of others, and channel her pushiness into effective leadership.
Question: "I hate to admit it, but our daughter is so bossy. She dictates orders to her friends and wants everything to go her way. If she doesn't temper her "overly assertive spirit" now, she's going to end up with no friends at all. She's always been controlling, so how do you change a kid like this so she will be more accepted by the human race?"
Answer: Although you certainly can't change your daughter's core temperament, you can temper her bossy streak and teach habits that will help her consider the feelings of others. A simple way to help jump-start that change is to insist that she always ask permission before imposing her agenda on others. For instance: "I'm going to play Chutes and Ladders. Do you mind?" or "I want to sit in the front seat. Is that okay?" Teaching that one little skill just may help her realize she has to stop and think about what others may want instead of always bulldozing ahead with her own agenda.
Bossy kids appoint themselves to be the ones in charge. They set the rules, choose the activities, and decide the game plan. And very rarely do they bother listening to their peers' or siblings' thoughts or concerns. Although their dictatorial skills may someday be the makings of a strong leader and CEO, right now these kids' bossy ways are usually highly unappreciated by peers.
Although you certainly won't want to stifle your child's self-confidence or willingness to take charge and assume responsibilities, you will want to help change a dictatorial, domineering attitude so that your child is more considerate of others' needs and more respectful of their feelings and wishes. Doing so certainly will boost your child's "likeability quotient" and social success. There are definite ways to parent for this type of change. You may see your child as a born leader, and she may indeed be the kind of kid who likes to take charge, assume responsibilities, and get things done. But remember, a true leader considers others' needs, hears where they are coming from, and has a positive goal that can benefit everyone, not just herself.
University of California, Berkeley: Research by pediatrician W. Thomas Boyce found that bossier preschool kids tend to be healthier.12 In fact, less dominant preschoolers at the lower end of the pecking order were found to have more health problems and to respond to stress with higher heart rates and a greater output of stress hormones than their bossier counterparts. Boyce drew these conclusions through observing and videotaping sixty-nine mostly middle-class preschoolers in eight five-week periods. So keep those findings in mind. Your little dictator is more than likely to have a biological tendency to dominate, and that trait may help her stay healthier and handle stress throughout life. Meanwhile, continue to temper that too-pushy spirit when it comes to relationships, so that your child is also happier.
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.
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.
- 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."
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?"
Step 3. Develop Habits for Change
- Teach nondictatorial strategies. Bossy kids don't stop to ponder what the other kid may want. So here are a few strategies to help your child learn to consider the other kid's desires. Choose one or two strategies to teach your child. Plan to practice the strategy at home several times until she is comfortable using it with peers.
- Use decision breakers. These are great when two kids can't decide what rules to play by, who gets to choose what to do, or even who goes first. Drawing straws, picking a number, tossing a coin, and playing Rock, Paper, Scissors are oldies but goodies that help make things fairer.
- Use "Grandma's Rule." The rule is simple and works like a charm to makes things fairer: "If you cut the cake, the other person decides which piece to take." The rule can apply to lots of things. For example: if you choose the game, the other person gets to go first; if you pour the lemonade, the other person chooses his glass first.
- Set a timer. Teach younger kids to agree on a set amount of time—usually only a few minutes—for using an item. Oven timers, egg timers, or sand timers are great devices for younger kids to use. Older kids can use the minute hands on their watches or stopwatches. When the time is up, the item is passed on.
- Compromise. Describe what it means to your older kid: "When you compromise, it means you're willing to give up a little of what you want, and the other person is too. It's a less bossy way to solve a problem because each person can have at least part of what she wants." She should understand that each person always has the opportunity to present her side, and when she does, she should be listened to. That way everyone tends to feel more satisfied. Then look for opportunities to practice compromising in real situations.
- Negotiate. Show your older child how to work out the shared use of the family computer so that everyone's interests and goals are met in a timely manner. "Let's work together to make a schedule that's fair for all of us and lets everyone get what she needs. That's what it means to negotiate."
- Reinforce cooperation. Change isn't always easy. Do acknowledge your child's efforts to be more agreeable and be sure to tell her exactly what you appreciate so she'll do it again. "I saw how you waited to hear your friend's idea. You didn't interrupt that time, and Alan appreciated getting all his words out." "I noticed how you asked Juan what game he wanted to play. That was thoughtful and considerate."
One Parent's Answer
A dad from Toronto writes:
Lectures and time-outs didn't do a thing to temper our son's bossiness. We realized that the only way to change his bad habits was through practice, so my wife and I mandated fifteen-minute evening family meetings. All family members—young and old—must have a chance to be respectfully listened to, and all ideas had equal weight. It took a while, but after a few weeks we saw a change: Justin was realizing he couldn't rule the roost and was actually learning to listen and think about others.
What To Expect By Stages And Ages
Preschooler This is the developmental stage when kids feel that the world revolves around them, so "Me," "I want," and "My turn" are staples of their vocabulary. Their cognitive capacity limits their ability to realize that their bossy actions appear rude or hurtful, so be gentle; it's best not to discipline them for their bossiness but instead to show them what to do. By age five they gain a bit more introspection and are less focused on control, so you can begin to encourage them to consider the feelings of others.
School Age At this age, children begin to recognize that bossiness has negative consequences: other kids don't appreciate being told what to do. Bossy kids are likely to be rejected by peers. Organized sports becomes a big part of daily schedules, and kids discover that their teammates don't want to be bossed by another player—regardless of her athletic abilities.
Tween By now kids have spent a good deal of time receiving instructions, directions, and orders from adults and may express their resentment by bossing you. Don't allow it; expect to be treated with respect. Extraordinarily sensitive to being bossed by peers or siblings, tweens' favorite retort is "You're not the boss of me."13 Those peers described as "cooperative, sharing, and caring" are more popular as well as happier in their peer relationships.14 Bossy girls (unless they're the Queen Bee) are likely to be dropped by the clique.
Pay Attention to This!
Bossy Children Are Unpopular and More Likely to Be Rejected
University of Illinois-Urbana: If you're in need of a compelling reason to change your child's bossy ways, here it is: studies find that one of the five reasons kids are most likely to be rejected by peers is that they are bossy and domineering.11 Kids just don't like it when peers aren't cooperative, helpful, or considerate of others. So by eliminating your kid's bossiness, you increase your child's chances for social success and happiness.
More Helpful Advice
Parenting the Strong-Willed Child, by Rex Foreland and Nicholas Long
Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
The Challenging Child: Understanding, Raising, and Enjoying the Five "Difficult" Types of Children, by Stanley I. Greenspan and Jacqueline Salmon
Books on Bossiness for Younger Kids
Bartholomew the Bossy, by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Norman Chartier
Franklin Is Bossy (Franklin Series), by Paulette Bourgeois
Little Miss Bossy (Mr. Men and Little Miss), by Roger Hargreaves
Bossy Anna (Silver Blades Figure Eights, No. 4), by Effin Older
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- A Teacher's Guide to Differentiating Instruction
- Theories of Learning
- Child Development Theories
- Social Cognitive Theory
- Curriculum Definition
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development