Rethinking What It Means to Have "Bossy" Children
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Rethinking What It Means to Have "Bossy" Children

Strong-willed children are often labeled "bossy," but what does that really mean? Is bossiness a trait that should be avoided? Learn how to help children through big feelings and develop strong social skills.

Adults are often quick to label kids "bossy," but what does this really mean? Is a child that is strong-willed and has firm opinions about how things should be done actually doing something wrong - and should "bossy" behavior be avoided? 

Parenting can impact children's perception of gender roles.

Sometimes, even unknowingly, parents can enforce gender stereotypes and roles on their children. Think about it: is there a difference between a young boy being bossy and a young girl being bossy? Does a teacher or family member point out bossy behavior in a negative connotation when it comes to girls but not boys?

Boys are often expected to be the leader, to have strong ideas about the world, and to have a firm sense of control when it comes to decision-making. Girls are often expected to be softer, more submissive, and in less of a leadership position. Because of these gender stereotypes, strong-willed behavior is often seen as a negative trait in girls, but as a positive trait in boys.

It's important for parents to acknowledge that gender expectations are at play when it comes to perceptions of bossy behavior.

Strong-minded children, and children with other related traits, are often labeled in a negative connotation. 

Two quarreling children

A good parent can acknowledge that two ideas can be true at the same time: their child can have strong opinions and that same child might need some help relating to other children in a social manner. These children might need help learning to express themselves in an effective way that helps them relate to their friends and have a more successful experience at school and during play.

When parents have the right mindset, it's easier to have productive conversations with strong-willed kids about finding the right words and support during tricky situations that they might encounter with their friends at school. When a child has a positive sense of self, it is easier for them to adapt to new ideas and patterns of behavior.

Teach kids when it's okay to insist on one way, and when it's important to be flexible with an idea.

The girl and the boy specify a way

Reassure your child that his feelings are valid. 

Talking with your little ones about big feelings can be a great way for a family to offer support. Tell your child that you understand that it's hard when you want things to go a certain way, and other people or friends at school want things to go another way. This can be a really tricky situation to find yourself in, especially when you're young.

Help narrate to your child the basic facts of the situation. Validate their emotions, without falling into the fix-it mentality. This validation can help activate a child's problem-solving abilities. Encourage your child to join you in thinking of a solution.

Model strategies with your child.

A parent can have a big impact on a child through modeling situations or behavior. Tell your child a story from your own life that illustrates their problem.

Parenting is more effective when positive behavior is modeled, not just talked about. You can model positive behaviors through play. Play with your child and model a situation in which you struggle with not getting your way. Pretend to argue with your child, and answer them by mimicking their feelings of frustration and desire for control. This will most likely get their attention, and they might even think it's funny.

When you have your child's attention due to your bizarre behavior, then say "Oh, I'm sorry, I must have gotten frustrated. What I meant to say was this." Give them the words and skills to help navigate a tough situation where there is disagreement. Give your child an example of what they could say in a scenario where their friend or classmate disagrees with them, and teach them how to compromise or hand over some control to the other person.

A parent is a child's first and most respected teacher. Talking with your child about what to do when they feel upset about not getting their way can be a positive way to learn new ideas. You can teach your child to pause, take a deep breath, and remind themselves that they might have a strong opinion (and one that is perfectly valid), but they don't have to always get their way. Have these conversations frequently, so that your children know that their big feelings don't have to get in the way of their social relationships.

Modeling behaviors is one of the best resources for children to learn.

Give your child a framework for what to do. 

Mother talking to her children

Kids won't always get what they want; this is just a part of life. Within the family, at school, or in other social situations, kids will have to cope with not getting their way.

One positive method of working through this frustration is for the parent themself to accept the child's struggle with not getting their way. If the parents can't accept the child's feelings and struggles, it will be very difficult for the child to. Show your kids that you empathize with them and validate their struggles, and then give them the resources to work through it.

For example, your child might be upset that he got the "wrong" color plate for dinner. He wants the blue plate, but you gave the blue plate to his sister. He might start throwing a fit. Before you react, consider the reason why he is upset? Is it truly about the color of the plate? Or is there a deeper issue at play?

In this situation, validate your child's feelings. They didn't get what they wanted. The event didn't happen in the way they imagined it would. Things didn't go the way they thought they would go. Give your child the words and resources to tolerate those emotions. Empathize with their frustration, narrate the situation, and validate their experience and feelings. Show your child that you tolerate their disappointment, but do not give in. Do not give the child whatever it is that they are demanding - that is the boundary that a parent can hold.

Help your children tolerate their feelings so that they can learn to be flexible. Let them know that in your family, you all understand that it's hard not to get your way. It isn't easy to wait your turn for a toy, or not get the item that you want. A child's experience of the world is much different than an adult's, and acknowledging that difference can help a child feel seen and heard.

How does a child practice being flexible in the way they view the world? 

Lovely moment at home

How do children practice being flexible? Talk with your child during a calm time. Tell them about how you don't like waiting for things that you want to happen, or not getting what you want. Help your little ones realize that the family is on their side, ready to help them cope with these big feelings. 

Mother soothing and hugging crying baby girl

Is there a difference between assertiveness and inflexibility? 

Assertive behavior is often seen in a negative connotation, but being assertive isn't always a bad thing. Parents should be careful not to compare one child to another. It can be detrimental to your children's self-esteem if one is constantly labeled "easy" and the other as "bossy" just because one tends to be more flexible than the other.

A positive way that a family can spin this comparison is to say, "One child is taking up too much of the flexibility. I need to help my more flexible child be more inflexible so that the more inflexible child has a chance to practice social skills." Being inflexible isn't always negative. It's important for kids to learn how to set boundaries in relationships.

A parent can help the flexible child stand their ground and hold their boundary. The family can support that child in speaking up, even when the more "bossy" child begins to have a meltdown. Both kids might have a hard time with this practice in the beginning, but this is the foundation for building strong social skills that they'll be able to use at school, with their friends, within the family, and during other activities.

Rethinking bossiness can help parents empower their children to function better in social settings. 

Happy mother and daughter having fun

The idea that strong-willed children need to be tamed is unhelpful and outdated. Parents should address family dynamics and understand that each person in the family plays a specific role. The best idea is for parents to help their kids navigate the world by validating their feelings, and giving them the words and coping skills to deal with tricky situations. Whether your child is the "bossy" one, or the more flexible one, talking with them and having conversations about social skills can make a big difference in how your family functions. 

Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez

I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.

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