The Good News About "Bad" Kids

How to Discipline Bossiness and Roughhousing

The Problem: Being Bossy

happy child

Collette De Barros

Whether it's "My turn," "Do that," or "I'm going to be the mommy again," your child's imperious behavior can alienate friends, siblings -- and you.

The Good News Her authoritative temperament hints at budding leadership skills that are bound to take her places. However, her prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that lets you think things through before reacting) is immature, which can make her come off like a drill sergeant, notes Dr. Wittenberg. You should notice a big difference by second grade, when her thinking becomes more logical and her desire to fit in helps modify her behavior.

The Remedy When she insists on running the show with her friends, let the group attempt to work it out on their own. But if she doesn't tone it down, you should intervene. Try saying something along the lines of, "Ashley, why don't you play a game in which everyone can help, like I Spy?" Later, give your child "voice lessons" to soften her tone. You might say, "When you use your bossy voice, you sound like this?now, let's hear you say it in a nice way."

The Problem: Ignoring You

When he's around other kids, your child doesn't seem to hear you. So your calls to leave the playground or to stop jumping on the sofa during a playdate go unanswered.

The Good News He's building friendships. A child is fascinated by everything his buddies are doing, saying, eating, and wearing. And he can't tune in to them and you at the same time -- at least until around first grade, when kids are better able to divide their focus, according to Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The Remedy While you don't want to interfere with your child's blossoming friendships, there are times when you need him to listen. So try something unexpected to get his attention: Sing about putting the toys away, or deliver your directions in a funny accent. Also, rather than calling to him from another room, make sure you're close by. Use a loud voice only when it's an urgent matter of safety.

The Problem: Getting Rough With Friends

While you may not approve of wrestling, pushing, and karate chopping, play-fighting sessions are completely irresistible for many young kids -- and especially boys.

The Good News For a child to be "good" at physical play he must possess certain social skills, such as knowing how to communicate nonverbally with friends, gauge how intensely to play, and stop when his buddy needs a break, says Nancy K. Freeman, Ph.D., associate professor of early childhood education at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. A kindergartner may overdo it (accidentally tackling another kid too hard, for example), but with practice he'll master the limits. Horseplay also helps him learn to manage emotions. After getting riled up from playing tag, a child must learn to calm himself down, which helps instill a critical self-soothing skill, says Dr. Cohen, who is also the coauthor of The Art of Roughhousing.

The Remedy Make sure your child and his pals are tumbling around in a safe, wide-open area and watch them closely. Step in if you notice fists flying, kicking, or unhappy facial expressions, suggests Dr. Cohen. Also work on where to draw the line at home: If he bounds into you with no warning, say, "That's too rough. You might break something. Let's take our horseplay outside."

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

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