If your child is constantly bossing you and his siblings around, if he resists all your requests, if he doesn’t seem to have the ability to follow, it is because he is begging for you to let him lead.
When we call our children bossy, we do what we do each time we use an adjective to describe a human being: we diminish the entire experience of life into a single word that doesn’t represent anything but the present moment. When we label children we disregard the most important part of the adjective we used, and that it the reason for which our children behave that way.
Everything is a Strategy
You see, everything we do is a strategy to get our needs met. All the words we say, all the thoughts we think, everything we do – we do in the single hope to finally get our needs met. And our needs, they never have anything to do with anyone else, so when we think that a bossy child is trying to control us, his siblings, the environment, or anything that’s happening – what that child is really trying to control is his own life.
The “Need” to Control
We call it a need, but it isn’t really. Controlling is a strategy, it is a strategy that is aimed for us to meet our needs of autonomy, choice, freedom, and many others. These three needs are as existential as the needs for air, food, and water. If you come to think about it – what is it if not freedom and choice that humanity is fighting for? What are all these wars about, if not the freedom to be as we want to be, where we want to be?
Feeling Out of Control
Think about the last time you couldn’t do something that you wanted to do, were you happy?
Last week I was planning Ilay’s birthday. I knew the exact hour by which each task has to be done in order for all of us and everything to be ready on time. And then we had guests, unexpected guests. And I knew that was the end of my plan. I was a bit angry, and quite frustrated. Not only about the mere fact of now needing to cook into the night (which could have been my original choice had I known we’re expecting company), but more so – about the fact that no one asked me, about the fact that this change of plans was inflicted upon me. This is a very small thing, but what if it happens to me every single day? How patient and accepting would I be?
So Why Do Kids Become Bossy?
Unmet needs rule us and define our thoughts and behaviors. When we carry a powerless life experience for too long, it is destined to affect us. And kids, let’s admit it, don’t really get to control their lives. They don’t really get to choose how everything will unfold. And if this feeling of powerlessness is the feeling they carry, they will be showing us all their bossiness, resistance, and defiance as their strategy to have their needs of freedom, autonomy, and choice met.
And guess what, meeting their bossiness, resistance, and defiance with bossiness, resistance, and defiance will only cause a bigger explosion and take them further away from meeting their needs.
How to Really Handle a Bossy Child?
Remember that we said that everything is a strategy? If your child is bossy – he is begging you to let him lead, he is begging you to allow him the control over his life. He just doesn’t know how to ask for it nicely (and that’s why reminding him to be nice doesn’t work).
If we wish to change a certain behavior – we must first accept it. Accept that somewhere, along the way, our child’s life experience had changed from empowered to powerless and that’s the reason for this shift in behavior. And if we want to see another shift, a positive shift, it’s the need we need to address, and not the behavior. Once the needs for autonomy, freedom, and the ability to choose are met and the sense of empowerment is restored – the bossy strategies become redundant and disappear from your life.
- Let them choose: the color of their spoon, their clothes, what they eat, what they drink, where they go – everything that doesn’t really have an implication on your life is something you can pass the control of over to your child. Another tip: make sure that all options you give are accepted by you 🙂
- Give them work: if you notice when exactly your child becomes bossy, around which tasks or people, that is where he needs to be empowered. Find a unique job he can do in that area to feel in control over the situation. Join my parenting support group on Facebook for specific ideas 🙂
- Envelope obligatory tasks with choices: sure, we need to get to the shower now, there are no questions about that. But we can get there pretending we’re dinosaurs, or horses! What do you prefer?
- Envelope your refusals with choices: right, we can’t eat that snack now, but we can have an apple or a banana, what would you like?
- Trust them when they tell you how they feel: this one is going to be tricky for many readers, I know, but if your child says that he’s not cold and he doesn’t want to wear a jacket – it means he isn’t cold and he doesn’t want to wear a jacket. No one ever chooses cold over comfort, it doesn’t meet anyone’s needs. Unless, of course, this had already become a familiar power struggle and your child feels that he needs to prove to you that he knows how he feels better than you do. If it is the case – stop. He know how he feels, and this is not is fight you ever want to have. Believe me – kids who are trusted to know how they feel will never refuse a hat and a jacket when they are, actually, cold.
- Ask for their help: nothing can empower a child more than being is asked to help by the person he adores more than anyone else in the whole wide world. Ask for a glass of water, ask for your phone, ask for the paper, anything and everything your child can do for you – ask him to do it for you. And meet his help with the purest gratitude.
- Don’t tell them what to say: our purest motivations to teach children how to best handle themselves on this planet often cause us to direct their words. I know, you really want to teach your child to say sorry, thank you, and please, but if you order these words, they’ll never come from the child’s heart, and moreover – they will forever make the child feel that the feelings of others are more important to you than his. “Oh look – Aunty Brenda got you a present! How nice of her! Would you like to say thank you?” is always a better approach than “say thank you”. And here are 4 other things you should never say to a child.
Once your child regains the sense of control over his life, once he knows that he is trusted, upon his thoughts and feelings, once he feels safe to be who he really is – the bossiness will wither away and become another one of these periods you eventually warmly reminisce upon.
Remember, nothing makes a human being happier than being good to, and for, the ones we love.
And if you need more help, your trial session is always on me 🙂