Hi Dr. Joanette, I have a four-and-a-half-year-old and a seven-year-old daughter. My oldest daughter is bossy. She has strong ideas about what she wants and has no problem telling kids and grownups what she thinks they should do. Some days it’s challenging to interact with her, and it’s hard to be with her when she directs how she wants things to go. Can you give me some ideas to help her not be so bossy?
Thank you for asking a question that I know many parents of strong and determined kids struggle with.
Two things can be true: Your child knows what she wants and needs some help managing her bossiness. You want to preserve her determination while helping her be more flexible. What can you do? It’s hard when your child wants something to go a certain way, and she is with others that want it to go a different way—something you can say to her outside the moment. Hmmm, you know what’s hard? It’s hard when you know how you want things to go, and you’re with others who know how they want something to go.
UGHH, when those things are different, it’s so tricky.
Telling your daughter, this sets a baseline for an openhearted interpretation of her bossiness. I love the word tricky because it activates problem-solving and validates a child’s feelings.
Another idea is to model struggling with this yourself by telling a story from your adult life. I want to tell about this really tricky situation I had earlier.
I was meeting my friend to go shopping, and I really wanted to go to this one store, and she really wanted to go to a different store. I really, really, really wanted to go to the store I chose, and she really, really, really wanted to go to the store she decided.
Oooh, what do you think we did? Then pause and let your child help you problem-solve. You are helping her build the neuropathways she needs for flexibility.
One of the reasons it’s hard for kids to be flexible is they have a hard time understanding that even if they don’t get to do their idea, it’s still a good idea. If I don’t try my idea, how will I know it is good if I don’t see it played out? You can model a mantra for her during a struggle when she insists on only playing her idea. Take a deep breath and then say, “hmmm, I have a good idea, and you have a good idea too, or I have a good idea, and I know it’s good even if I don’t do it.