Do you sometimes think your child has a burning desire to be in charge of the world because the bossy behavior never stops? Does your child boss around everyone from you to their friends to the family dog, issuing instructions and wagging that little finger? Have you been embarrassed when their bossy behavior at the park makes the other parents raise their eyebrows?
1. Bossiness isn’t a terrible personality trait
Are you destined to raise the next Napoleon?
Bossiness isn’t always a bad thing — it’s even the base of some excellent leadership skills if it’s harnessed correctly. But parenting a bossy little one is exasperating, so we asked experts Barbara Weinberg, MEd, EdD, child psychologist in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and Dr. Claudia Gold, MD, author of “Keeping Your Child in Mind,” for some advice.
Every one of us has a distinct personality we’re born with, says Weinberg. And this temperamental style is based in our individual biology. But children can learn how to use their own style to adapt to different social situations so they can be effective members of a larger society.
2. Show them what to do
If your child occasionally shows signs of being a tyrant, you’re the best person to teach them how to refine their social skills so they know how to act appropriately. They might not notice that their bossiness isn’t welcomed by other kids. Weinberg suggests teaching kids how to use certain social skills, like flexibility around decisions and tone of voice. Model how words can take on different meanings depending on the tone and inflection someone uses. When your child imitates your model, offer positive reinforcement with a kind response.
3. They are not the boss of you
If, for instance, your child decides to dictate dinner, you can calmly state that you can take his ideas into consideration but that you choose the meals. If you can see the need for control from your child’s point of view, there will be fewer struggles. “It is about the child’s unique character and where they are developmentally,” says Gold. Model how to work collaboratively and show what appropriate responses are, but don’t let that bossiness get to you. Make sure you have a conversation with everybody from the babysitter to grandparents to make sure they know to maintain control.
4. Does it just make you uneasy?
It helps to step back and think about what’s most bothersome to you. “We have to ask ourselves, as parents, why we are uncomfortable,” Weinberg says. You might not like to see your child being bossy, but are the other kids following his instructions? His leadership skills might just need a little polishing so that he doesn’t expect people to follow him blindly and entirely.
5. See bossiness as an unrefined skill
Bossiness, as long as it’s not outright rude, is a child’s way of learning leadership skills. If they can work within a group and be socially moderate, Weinberg says, teaching them a few appropriate ways to guide a group or to change the course of action will enhance their natural tendencies to lead by giving them the skills to do so. They will learn how to be supportive of others, take turns, follow through and even initiate their own ideas. As they get older, their behaviors will become more refined.