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Illustration courtesy Lauren Rebbeck

Guide a Little Bossy Boots Without Squelching Leadership Qualities

Licensed professional counselor Melissa Michaud offers tips for parents.

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The Problem:

I have a well-behaved child who is very bossy to other children who are not behaving. How do I teach her to mind her own business?

The Expert:

Melissa Michaud, licensed professional counselor, Riverpath Counseling Colorado

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The Solution:

What first comes to mind is the question, “What motivates her behavior?” Is she a rule-follower who is frustrated that others don’t seem to have to obey the rules? Does she enjoy being a leader but lacks the proper skills? Is this a behavior being modeled for her by others?

Often, it’s a combination of all of the above. It is important to recognize that your child might not yet be at an age to fully understand her actions. Good news: you can help guide her. Here’s an example conversation:

“When a friend corrects you, how does that make you feel?”

“Do you think it might make the other kids feel the same (embarrassed, bossed around, bad about themselves)?”
Give her a chance to reflect.

“I know you feel good when you behave and when you help others. Do you think there’s another way we could do that without hurting people?” (For example, giving others space, asking if they need help, being empathetic).

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“Wonderful. I will remind you of the thoughtful ways we can help others if I see you being bossy.”

When you see these behaviors again, remind her gently of this conversation; “Remember, we’re going to be kind and not correct others—what are our other options?” If she is successful, pull her aside and give her a high five: “You did a great job letting that friend learn on their own!” Reinforcing her positive changes will give you the best outcomes.

Remember that your daughter is most likely a natural born leader and helper. Learning these skills will help her transform from bossy to empathetic.

Spot the good in her and point out the changes as you see them. With enough reinforcement, her behavior is bound to change.

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