Bossy children can be charming or a challenge--depending on who is bossed, and why. Adults might smile at a kid who directs people where to sit at a birthday table, but when the same little angel points at a jar of candy and tells mom to bring it to her, the charm fades quickly. Deciding what behavior is unacceptable and being consistent about rules can help when dealing with bossy kids.
What parents view as undesirable bossy behavior varies from one family to the next. Some parents view bossy behavior as being assertive and strong. Others see bossiness as a phase that kids go through. When parents find that their bossy kids disrupt the family unit and get in trouble at school, though, they might want to put an early end to the phase. Bossy behavior can contain elements of assertiveness mixed with insecurity, according to Elizabeth Foley Ward, M.Ed., LMHC, in her book, "Fix My Child."
Parents and Functions
Children sometimes mimic the behavior they observe when their parents interact with others. A mother or father who orders others around might encourage the same behavior in observant children. Some parents might see bossiness as mere assertiveness--and view the behavior as acceptable.
Bossy kids might make other kids resentful, and leave the child isolated and frustrated. Not all people distinguish between bossiness and bullying, and a teacher might label bossy children as bullies. Other children might tire of being bossed around. Birthday invitations drying up or canceled play dates can be a secondary effect of bossy behavior.
Adults might not have success adjusting behavior unless they are consistent and persistent. Being bossy differs from bullying in that a bossy child does not intent to hurt others, according to psychiatrist Janet Taylor, in a 2009 interview with CBS Television's "The Early Show." Taylor says that bossy behavior is not intentional, and that parents can correct it with positive behavior modification. She suggests praising a child for expressing what she needs, and then suggesting better ways to express those needs--rather than criticizing or punishing a child.
In "Fix My Child," Ward suggests that discipline is the answer. Bossy kids boss because they can, she says. She asserts that bossy children will likely ignore parents who simply ask them to stop the behavior. Respect for parents is essential.
Any severe behavioral problem could be a symptom of other underlying issues. Some behavioral therapists point to ineffective parenting as a reason for bossiness in children. Divorced parents that feel guilty about not spending enough time with kids might give in too easily--scared of alienating the child, and allowing undesirable behavior to become a habit, according to Dr. Linda Pearson, DNSc, a family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, in "The Discipline Miracle." A parent's patient and continued intervention can eventually pay off, says Pearson. Children can learn about working with others to get what they want, rather than ordering others around.