Bossy Kid? Or Future Boss?

I’ve dealt with a lot of kids, and I have to say some of them are SO bossy! Right?! Or… Do they just totally know what they want? Is there a difference? 

Everyone just hold the phone for a second. (Is that still a thing?) Of course no one wants to admit that their little angel is a Captain Bossypants to the other kids, and even to you. Nevertheless, we hear the B-word all the time. “He’s bossing me around”, “She’s being bossy”… OMG! Just stop. Geeze. I’m not going to lie, I’m thrilled my kids are pretty much past this phase. My students though… Not a day goes by without hearing the B-word. 

Recently, it dawned on me that maybe “bossy” is not really the problem. Maybe the problem is stemming from communication. Think about the traits of a “bossy” seven year old; demanding, wants things a certain way, they speak up for those wants, they get heard. Now, what are the traits of a business owner or executive? They’re demanding, they know how they want things done, they delegate and identify what needs to happen, their employees listen. Coincidence? I think not.

The difference I see is the language, tone, and the manner in which the seven year old’s communication comes across versus the executive’s communication. We allow the executive to demand things from us because they’re an adult, a business owner, and the setting dictates that it is appropriate. When the seven year old shouts that she wants the ball so she can roll it down the slide, the other kids are like, “Yeah right. I’m telling!” 

As parents, we have the benefit of seeing both perspectives. We are in a unique position to help our little people change their reputation from “bossy” to conscientious or diplomatic. To do this, we need to understand this is not something that will change on the spot. It takes practice, patience, and skills. 

The practice and patience kind of go hand-in-hand once the skills are there. The skills are comprised of a few different tools your child can use as needed. 

The first tool is comprehension. They need to comprehend the idea that other kids may not understand or be aware of their wants and needs. So shouting, for example, won’t help anything. Instead, talk to your kids about context. 

Scenario 1:

Amy: Gimme the ball!

Jess: Stop bossing me around or I’m gonna tell.

Scenario 2: 

Amy: Hey, if you give me the ball, I can roll it down the slide so you can catch it.

Jess: Ok!

I wasn’t born yesterday, I know these examples are laughable. The meaning is there just the same though. I’ve witnessed firsthand the difference even a little bit of context can make with kids. 

Quick Side note:

Parents and teachers should also use context with kids. There will be an entire post on this topic soon, but it never hurts to get started now. 

The second tool is reciprocity. Essentially – give to receive. If Amy wants Jess to listen to her, Amy also needs to listen to Jess. If Jess feels heard, she’s far more likely to accept Amy’s communication happily. This is the foundation for solid relationship building and is a skill they will carry with them through life. A big way parents can help get this ball rolling is to initiate turn-taking. Eventually, the kids will be able to roll with it on their own and before you know it, Amy is giving Jess a turn without any prompting. And Jess is happily doing what Amy asks because she feels like she is being heard and acknowledged. This is also a key skill any executive should incorporate with their employees. You want happy workers? Make them feel heard.

Part of the stigma of being “bossy” is the idea that the person is self-centered or self-serving. So, the third tool is acknowledgment. Kids are entirely capable of recognizing a fun experience or a good idea. If Jess suggested they balance on the pavers as they walk all the way around the yard, and Amy ends up really having fun, she is completely able to communicate that to Jess. This interaction is a win-win. It removes that stigma. And it is what we call a bucket filling moment. If you are not familiar with what a bucket filler is, I strongly suggest you check out this site: It is a serious game-changer and has truly inspired me. 

If you notice, there’s a full-circle thing happening here. First we developed the environment for the interaction to take place (context). Then we made room for a mutual, two-way exchange to happen (reciprocity). We wrapped it up with the closure of positive communication (acknowledgment). 

I guarantee that if your child is helped with the development of these skills, there is no way they’ll be called “bossy”. Believe it or not, this entire scenario also applies just as much to adults. We need humility if we expect to teach our kids about this concept. Context, reciprocity, and acknowledgement are real-world skills everyone (whether giving or receiving) can benefit from learning. 

Looking for more tips? Have a question? Want to share a cool moment, vent a little, or hear from other parents? Check out @wholemindset on Instagram and YouTube. 

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