One day last summer, six-year-old Lynne came stomping into the house to complain to her mother, Amanda Peterson*, that her friend was “being mean” to her. When Peterson heard the full story, she discovered that they’d been playing hopscotch and Lynne decided they’d play by her rules.
The friend, however, wanted to stick to the regular rules. “So Lynne felt her friend was mean because she wouldn’t do what Lynne told her to do,” explains Peterson. Angela Penney’s daughter Sarah also has bossy-boots tendencies. At school, when the teacher asks the children to line up, Sarah often takes it upon herself to organize the kids and make sure they follow the teacher’s instructions. “She also gets quite bossy with her younger sister, Kaitlyn,” Penney adds. If they’re playing, Sarah has usually already imagined how the game will go and what each person’s role will be, and she proceeds to tell Kaitlyn what to do.
Some kids just want to be in charge
Some kids, it seems, just want to be in charge. “We’re all born with certain personality traits, and being a leader can be one of them,” says Calgary parenting coach Barbara Desmarais. “But if it translates into bossiness, then it needs to be addressed.” She points out that bossy children can have a difficult time making and keeping friends. Bossiness can also turn into bullying if the child uses force to get another to comply. Some tips to deal with bossiness:
• Offer your child choices to give him a sense of control. However, keep the choices simple (for example, “Do you want your sandwich cut in half, or in four pieces?”)
• When a play session has gone badly because of your child’s bossiness, sit down with her and go over what happened. Ask how she thinks the other child felt. It might help to remind her of how she felt when another child was bossy toward her.
• Remember you’re a role model. Do you cringe when your child sounds just like you when he talks to his younger siblings or friends? You may be able to modify your approach to something you’d be more comfortable with him imitating.
• Look for opportunities where your child can be a leader in a healthy, positive way, says Desmarais. Penney was pleased when Sarah’s teacher decided to have a “helper for the day.” Peterson’s empathetic around this issue because she recalls being a little bossy-boots herself. She says: “If I had a great idea, I wanted to see it come to fruition, and so I wanted people to listen to me and do what I said because I thought my idea was valuable. I wonder if bossiness is one of those traits that we find challenging in children but admire in adults. If there weren’t bossy people, we wouldn’t have amazing movie, TV and theatre directors, or people who run and manage big corporations.”
When your child gets bossy with you
A child who orders his or her parents around is looking for boundaries, says Calgary parenting coach Barbara Desmarais. “If a child feels he is in control of his parents, he won’t feel safe and secure,” she explains. “Children want to know that someone is in charge.” Amanda Peterson, who sometimes has to deal with a little bossing from her daughter, Lynne, says: “I gently remind her that I’m the mother, and I make the decisions. It’s not up to her to tell me what to do. And that usually works.”
*Names changed by request.