November 19, 2007,
S.C. asks from Secaucus, NJ on November 15, 2007
How Do I Stop My Daughter's Bossy Behavior?
My 8-year-old daughter has a huge heart and is compassionate, but she also has a tendency to be bossy with her friends and cousins (with the adults she's an angel). She's always been a leader and I've told her constantly that she can show leadership without crossing the line into bossiness. She's never aggressive or cruel; she'll do things like change the rules to games as she goes along and then becomes rude with her playmates when they don't follow the rules she just changed. When her friends and cousins were younger they took it, but now that they're older they assert themselves in no uncertain terms and she's hurt. My daughter has already lost one friend because of her bossy attitude, and if she continues like this she'll probably lose the rest of them soon. The irony is that she doesn't think she's doing anything wrong and is genuinely upset over losing her best friend.
I'm at a loss as to how she developed this aspect of her personality. She's an only child and my husband and I have taken great pains to avoid spoiling or otherwise overindulging her. We've also tried since she was very young to instill our values, which include treating people with respect.
I'm trying to stay out of the issue with her former best friend and let them work it out, and losing all her friends would likely motivate her to change her ways more than anything I could ever say to her. But it's still difficult to see her cry about her friend and even more difficult to see her other friends starting to snub her on the playground before and after school. Generally an outgoing child, she's becoming withdrawn and stays close to me until the bell rings and asks to go right home after school. The school work is tough enough to handle now without the social issues on top of it, and the stress is taking its toll on both of us. What can I do besides be there to comfort her when she's upset over her friends again? Talking to her clearly hasn't helped, but I don't want to see her completely ostracized by her classmates before she realizes she has to change.
So What Happened?™
Thanks to everyone who responded publicly and via email; apparently I'm not the only mom dealing with this issue! The prevailing attitude in all your responses is that I can't control my daughter's behavior -- and I agree. I guess I'm still in baby/toddler mode where I did control everything to a certain degree, and now that she's growing up I have to start backing off and let her find her way (with a little guidance from her dad and me). It's also part of the control freak in me. Anyway, my daughter and I had a long, quiet talk yesterday afternoon about how we should always treat others the way we want them to treat us. I kept it low-key, calm and supportive. Eventually my daughter asked me if I thought her former friend would want to be her friend again. I told her that the only way to find out was to talk to her. So she called her friend's house and left a message on their answering machine: "Hi, it's me. I just wanted to say hi and maybe we can have a playdate soon? I miss you. Bye." I was in the next room as she left her message, and the words "I miss you" rang with such heartfelt sincerity that they brought tears to my eyes. It's so hard to see your child hurting, but the only way she'll learn is to take her knocks in life, just like we all did. Thanks again, everyone. My daughter's behavior may not change, but at least I've learned how to change my own reaction to it.
K.K. answers from New York on November 19, 2007
It sounds like you are doing your best to balance your involvement...One thingyou can do is validate how hard it must be for her to feel left out. Listen to her without trying to give advice. I got the American Girl book, A girl's guide to friendship troubles" which is probably for slightly older girls but validates many of the feelings girls have about being left out. Also, share any experiences you may have had with this and share the loneliness this caused for you but eventually things pass. Remember not to show her your anxiety about the issue as well be very matter-of-fact and compassionate with her. Good luck!!! (I'm also a social worker so I work with kids as well but more importantly, I am the mother of an eight year old girl! K. Kane
Q.F. answers from New York on November 17, 2007
i'm not sure of what exactly you said to her during the talk about this, but other then telling her that the way she acts is driving ppl away, and that she CAN'T boss people around if she wants to have friends...then to point out how her best friend stopped talking to her because of that, and exactly how she felt because her actions caused her friend to not want to talk to her...there really isn't anything else you can do. to not sound like you're against her, you can add in how great a person she is, and point out how she's an angel around adults...why can't she be like that with her friends. and also mention to her that no one likes to be bossed around, and how would she like it if her friends started to boss her around...pretty much, treat people the way she wants to be treated. it's hard when you have a great child with 1 little quirk that people don't like in a person...everyone has something that people don't like in them, and for her, it's bossiness. at least it's not bullying! being an only child (and sometimes being the oldest child) makes it hard to not be bossy, because they don't really know any better then doing things THEIR WAY! maybe if you stay close while she's playing with friends, or even the children in your family (cousins), when you hear she's starting to be bossy, go over and whisper in her ear...you're being a little bossy...try to let them pick the rules of the game, or try to let them decide what to play next...maybe that could help a little more then just talking to her. all kids are different, some just need to be told what they're doing wrong, some need to be shown (like being overly bossy with her, or changing the rules in the middle of a game, and telling her she HAS to abide by YOUR rules, then when she doesn't like it...tell her "this is how other kids are seeing you when you're bossy", or some even just need to learn from their mistakes by losing all their friends. usually the latter just makes things worse, but sometimes it is the ONLY way for them to learn.
M.Z. answers from New York on November 16, 2007
I had a few thoughts while I was reading your post. The first one is that you really can't change or control anybody else. As difficult as it is to watch our kids wander down a path *we* know can be painful, beyond sharing what our experiences have been and what we have learned, I think the best we can do is be a support for them. We can listen but not judge, and not even advise ~ unless we've been specifically asked (even though we're *aching* to give advice!). (And, even when we've been asked specifically, advice is a dangerous thing to dole out!) Sometimes, just being there to listen deeply is enough to allow our kids to find the answers they already have in their own hearts, and *they* can best work out what to do. All they need from us is to love them for who they are and hold space for them.
But, two other thoughts also sprang to my mind. First, there is a danger of labeling your daughter "bossy." (I'm not saying that you're doing that, but it's something to watch for.) My suggestion, if you want to, is to pick up a copy of "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk," by Faber and Mazlish (I'm sure you can find it at the library). The last chapter (I believe) talks about the pitfalls of labeling (even something like "she's always such a good girl"). It's a great chapter! I think it's the best in the book!
The other thought was to consider perhaps redefining (in your own mind) the characteristics you are now thinking of as "bossy." Consider taking a few minutes to explore the positive aspects of the behavior that has earned her a descriptor like "bossy." Ask yourself what's good about it: does she have a strong sense of order? She's probably really creative. She probably has a world view that means a great deal to her. She's probably passionate. The world needs passionate people with a strong sense of justice. If these are her natural attributes, that's a good thing! Try to find what's so wonderful about her "bossiness" and how it might serve her in the future.
As best as you can, try to reinforce to herself and to you the good things about her personality traits! Even if you think to yourself, "I love that she feels so strongly about _____." See how that makes you feel differently about that part of her. And, if you can convey that to her, imagine how bolstered she will feel!!
Some kids are more sensitive then others, especially when it comes to their sense of order and what is "right." It's not necessarily rational, but their need for having and enforcing the kind of order *they* think is right is paramount to everything else, even if it costs them a friend, sadly. It may be something that she'll just need to outgrow. And, it may be something she's willing to brainstorm with you about. (Brainstorming is also covered in "How to Talk...")
The answer to your question, "How do I stop my daughter's bossy behavior?" I believe, is you can't. The only person in the world you *can* control is yourself. And, your daughter will find out eventually that the only person *she* can control is herself. Some folks, many folks, never learn that and never accept it. But, the sooner we realize that, the better our relationships can become.
I hope that's helpful, S.! It's a great question, and I thank you for asking it!
P.S. Please feel free to contact me if I haven't been exactly clear (it's a long post). I'd be happy to clarify anything I wrote that's not exactly making sense.
D.S. answers from Buffalo on November 16, 2007
Well pretty much its hard to see are children grow up this way i am a mom too 2 girls one 12 and one 7 and let me say i been through this and its not gonna get no better LOL my 12 yr old still goes through this the best advice i can give is too let them work it out between themselves usually they will sometimes it just takes alittle longer is all ..Your daughter might realize that some of the things shes said or done is wrong and will try and make it up too the friend in time .Its hard too see your child hurt i been there i listen to them and suggest somethings and let your child decide S. sounds like your doing right stay outta it and tell your daughter that maybe her and her friends should just have a break from each other for a bit or maybe put her mind busy with something else for a while and have a break from her friends i know its hard stay strong ...
M.T. answers from New York on November 17, 2007
You are not going to be able to stop her behavior, she is the only one with the power to do that. What you might wish to do is to have a discussion with her about her behavior and the possible repercussions. Ask her how she thinks the other child feels after she has behaved in this way. If she doesn't realize that she is behaving in a way that might be offensive to other kids, develop a code word that you can use when you see/hear her being bossy or overbearing so that she knows she needs to change her behavior. I would also remind her when she is behaving this way that this is why her friend does not want to play with her anymore. It was her own behavior that caused it. This may be a hard lesson for her to learn as more friends drift away.
Something that might help the "all about me" type of child is to have them join a team activity, where there is no leader, where everyone is valuable and expected to play by the same rules. See what is available through your community. Good luck.
S.R. answers from New York on November 18, 2007
Gee, that is a tough one, and my son has a controlling side too that we have to work on every once in a while. He's an only child too, which makes it harder, since he does not have to learn to get along with siblings. We practice good behavior through play acting with his toys. He uses cars instead of dolls, since he has an abundance of those. You could do the same, by playing dolls with your daughter, and using it as an opportunity to teach a more positive way to interact with her friends, with the interaction with the dolls, probably without her realizing it.
U.K. answers from New York on November 16, 2007
My daughter is the same way at 7. Someone suggested to me signing her up in activities such as Girl Scouts that promote social awareness, etc. I think the objective is for her to keep practicing her social skills with 2 people at a time, then with 3, etc.
Actually, I don't mean to be selfish but I could use some assistance in this area myself. Thanks!