Dear Auntie Leila,
Do you know a cure for bossiness? If there were a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle chapter on bossiness, my four-year-old daughter would be the bossy child! In her (my?) defense, she is the eldest child (I also have a two-year-old boy and a three-month-old boy). My husband and I are both the eldest. Three of her four grandparents are the eldest. AND the majority of her great-grandparents are also the eldest. Is there any hope?! Someone has to be the eldest after all, but she does come from a long line of them…
I know that the beginning at least is for me to examine myself. On the one hand I know I need to work on speaking charitably toward her and toning down my bossiness. But on the other hand, I am her mother, and she does need to mind me — which sometimes requires a (very) firm tone. What can I do?? She bosses around everyone — her brothers, parents, grandparents, friends, etc. Not that we do as she says (especially when delivered in that tone), but she is relentless…
Thank you for this beautiful ministry that you do through your blog. I’m not sure how I came across it originally, but I’m so glad I did! You have made a big impact on these early years of my marriage and motherhood, and I am extremely grateful!
Thank you for any insight on the bossiness cure :o)
Gosh, there must be a chapter somewhere in Mrs. P-W that addresses this! Is there not? Calling all Piggle-Wiggle scholars!
I will do my best; I can relate to your issue, as I am also bossy and have some bossy kids.
Maybe I can characterize this problem. We realized an issue (actually, I credit the Chief with this one) with one of our kids in particular, who is also very kind, so fear not! — when it became clear that she somehow had the notion that everything that was said or that happened required a response from her. In her defense, she was, like your daughter, still very young.
Once you notice this trait, you can begin to remedy. (In oneself: do I think I need to comment on everything that is said? Suddenly, do I realize that I am doing just this? People can chat amongst themselves — this can be a revelation! Just let people do their thing! Hmm… novel idea… )
The moment of truth hits on that day when you realize: you’re sitting around the dining room table with everyone, and comment from young Johnny gets a response from Miss Bossy, comment from Grandma Bossy gets a response from Miss Bossy, etc…
Every interaction has to go through her!
Sometimes it helps to bring the picture into focus to consider the family as a kind of pack.
When a person has a rather choleric temperament, he can take on the alpha role (yes! even tots!). And the temperament of others either enables that person, for instance if the parents tend to be rather phlegmatic or too melancholic to rouse themselves to the necessary pitch of resistance and proper benign dominance — or gives rise to conflict, if a parent is also somewhat choleric. Once you identify the temperament/alpha issue, you can take steps.
You and your husband are the “alpha pair” and that (vital, indispensable, God-given) status is mostly conveyed by gestures and quiet admonishments. Simply putting your hand on a child’s head, looking away at a moment when they are getting geared up, raising an eyebrow, emitting a well placed “tsk” — these gestures are worth a thousand nags.
Note well: when correctly ordered, each temperament* has its benefits and blessings, so teaching self control is absolutely critical. That
bossy choleric person will manage things very well for you and for the world when she’s older, although you will always have to be sure that she isn’t taking on more than is appropriate, until she is no longer your problem, having reached the age of majority! Even then, your wise, calm voice will be of immense help to her.
As the alpha pair, you are the arbiters of the interactions in your home; this is a teaching matter. When things are humming along, you let everyone do their thing and all is well. There are rarely plateaus of calm in a family, however! So when one person steps out of line and takes an inopportune role (like bossing), you can help her get control over her tendencies.
So one thing is to simply say, “Be quiet and let others speak.” Head her off at the pass. It might take a week to get a little traction on this new habit, — and maybe more like years, so see how it goes. It might take repeated gentle reminders and explanations to get the message through. “You can’t speak up whenever you feel like it. Listen first to see if you are being helpful.” “You don’t have to say anything right now.” “He’s littler than you and it takes him a while to say or do this — you were the same way when you were little. Let’s be patient.” “He can do it.” “Mama said, ‘be quiet’.”
Then of course, let her know when she’s been helpful; encourage her when she handles things well, because you know, our faults are our strengths; our strengths are our faults. You can’t actually change how you deal with life, you can only somehow, with the help of others and God, make the way you deal better.
When she’s actually bossing, quietly go over and remove her from the situation (and work on that raised eyebrow so that you can manage from afar). Explain that she wasn’t letting her brother do things his own way. Everyone has to have a chance to figure things out for themselves.
You know, one thing I appreciate about the Arabic culture I half-grew up with (when I was with my father) is the paramount importance placed on showing respect to elders. Sure, pertness can be cute, and Americans seem to have a good deal of patience with such behavior, but at some point, you just say, “that’s disrespectful — stop.” Say it quietly and keep saying it as the occasion demands, without embarrassing her but without letting her off the hook, either.
This is a work in progress. So sometimes there’s naughtiness and you prudently just wait until later and say, “Sweetie, in this situation I don’t want you to be telling your elders what to do.” Correction should rarely be carried out in front of others in this case, because she doesn’t mean it — she’s learning.
Give the words for a better way of saying it: “Grandma, can I take your coat for you?” (In contrast to: “put your coat over there, Grandma!”)
In the next couple of years you want to gradually give her the idea that she ought to be using her above-average observational and management skills to figure out how she can help people and make them more comfortable.
This is really teaching manners. Manners are not some form that we use to get points from people; they are set ways of behaving that are designed to put people at their ease. Manners are the way we show kindness, and kindness is what makes family life pleasant. Our children need to learn to serve in practical and concrete ways and to be kind! It’s okay to talk about this with them in a gentle way.
Scolding and bossing are rude when the person doesn’t have authority (and need to be carefully controlled when the person does!); it’s as simple as that. Life becomes intolerable when you are a little kid and everyone is scolding you! We have to make life pleasant for the littles!
Don’t worry. Lots of four-year-old girls are this way. Younger brothers have to suffer a lot, but what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger.
Keep thinking of ways to express how each person fits into the family structure — ultimately everyone relaxes when the roles are clear. You are on the right track in identifying the problem, and it will sort itself out little by little.
Thanks for writing! God bless,
Later I got a follow-up (and I do love to hear how things are going!):
I found myself coming back to this email from you today, after a particularly bossiness-filled day in our home. Once again, your advice proved to be a treasure, and exactly what I needed (again!).
Truly, thank you. You hit the nail on the head with my daughter, who happens to fit into both examples you gave – alpha dog (or trying to be) AND feels that all interactions must go through her. But you have given me hope to begin again tomorrow :o)
God bless you and your family. And very best wishes and prayers for your expecting daughters!
Carry on, parents of the world!
*Want to know more about temperaments? I highly recommend this book, The Temperament God Gave You. (This is an affiliate link — thanks for shopping with us!)