Have you noticed your little one bossing her buddies around? Want to make sure her assertiveness doesn’t go too far? Here’s how.
WORDS SUNUJA NAIDU
At the playground, she’s the child who’ll be instructing the children around her on the games to play and how to play them. At home, you’ll find her bossing her siblings around.
Some children are naturally bossy. Pare Swartsenburg feels that her older child, Mayuri, falls into this category. “She likes telling everyone around her what to do, be it her classmates or her younger sister at home and she struggles with instructions to follow unless she makes them herself,” says Pare.
She adds, “For example, if I worked out a reward system or punishment to help her improve her behaviour, she would still feel the need to summarise it in her own words, like it isn’t really meant for her and that she had just come up with it by herself. Often she adds a few extras here and there to ensure everyone understands – but the topic is about when she will be punished! Yet she feels the need to control it.”
Being “bossy” is part of growing up. It is probably a reflection of a child’s developing self-confidence and self-esteem, says Pamela See, educational and developmental psychologist with Th!nk Psychological Services. However, being overly pushy can affect a child’s friendships.
Pare reveals that many of Mayuri’s friends get annoyed with her at some point or another, “but because she is such a high-spirited and energetic child, they still want to hang out and play with her.” “Whenever I turn up at school, I have kids coming up to me with complaints about how Mayuri was not doing the right thing and so on. But the next moment, they are back together,” Pare says.
Contrary to what some think, there is no specific age at which a child will start being bossy. Every child is different, points out See. “Most kids start to become more ‘bossy’ when they are more linguistic and social,” she says.
Mayuri, for example, displayed bossy traits even when she was two years old when she would help her classmates introduce themselves in class. At three, she would call out to the children at the playground, giving them instructions on what games to play and how to play it.
What some might describe as a “take charge attitude” does sometimes stress Pare out. “I get stressed half the time as I want her to tone it down. I do talk to her about it a lot and am often correcting her on the spot to make her realise that perhaps she needs to sometimes let others have a say too and not overpower everyone.”
According to See, children could be modelling their behaviour after their role models, such as their teachers, parents and caregivers. In Mayuri’s case, Pare ventures that her daughter may be a chip off the old block. “Her dad is super bossy too,” she says.
Children learning to gain more control of things around them and those who are starting to develop some independence could also present as “bossy”. By the same token, girls can sometimes appear to be more “bossy” than boys as they are more expressive at a younger age. Gifted children too could be seen as more “bossy” if they are better versed in certain areas.
It is important for parents to teach their children that being bossy can be socially inappropriate leading to poor peer relationships, advises See. She offers the following steps parents can take to handle their children’s bossy behaviour
Don’t follow your child’s orders. Pay less attention when she or he is being demanding. Only respond to your child if she is making requests politely.
Facilitate or observe your child’s playdates. If you observe that your child is being “bossy”, bring him or her out of the group and point out that it is inappropriate behaviour. Make sure you do not tell your child off in front of other children.
Teach your child to ask for things politely instead of demanding for things.
Parents should be mindful of the way they communicate with their child as well, that is, when parents request for things, are they asking politely or using a demanding tone. Your child would naturally model after your behaviour as children learn about social behaviours through observing the adults around them.
Always praise your child when you notice him or her being polite. Reward the positive behaviours; don’t only point out the “bossiness”.
Consider facilitating your child’s playdates a few times, ensuring that the playdate has a turn-taking and give-and-take nature.
Give your child choices instead of giving them free rein of decisions.
Take a balanced approach. Do not allow your child to dictate all the decisions but give them leeway to make choices in their daily routine.
Sharon Alcantra, curriculum specialist and principal at Brighton Montessori, Frankel Avenue adds the following pointers:
When your child is being bossy, speak to him or her and prompt them to think about how the other person might feel. Teach them practical steps on how to compromise in a situation. You can also role play with them a situation so that it reinforces how to put this into practice.
Check yourself to see if they are learning their bossiness from you. Children emulate behaviours that they observe; hence, how you behave at home and around others will play a large part in influencing his or her behaviour. You are, after all, your child’s first teacher.
Set ground rules for behaviour. For example, tell your child that everyone will have a turn at the swing, and do not allow them to tell other children otherwise.
Do not give in to your child when they are trying to boss you around. You can simply ignore him until he learns to ask for something nicely without being bossy.
Praise them when they learn to treat others fairly and respectfully and remember to move forward, not harp on their bad behaviour in the past.
Bossiness vs Bullying
A child who is bossy likes to take the lead and dictate how they would like their friends to play.
A bully would possibly scare his or her friends into doing what he or she says with the intention to intimidate.
There’s also a difference between being bossy and being assertive. See says bossiness is when a child dictates what they want to be done and could possibly get upset if their wishes are not followed. Assertiveness is the ability to state your opinion confidently without being aggressive. Parents, therefore, need to help their bossy child transition into an assertive one.
The good thing about having a child with a take-charge attitude is that he or she is unlikely to allow themselves to be bullied. Their assertiveness could also become an asset later in life. For Pare, the challenge is to keep Mayuri’s confidence up and hopefully retain her high spirits and convert her bossiness into good leadership skills in the future.