Expert Q&A: Discipline, Depression, ADHD, and More

Bossy Friends

Q. We have friends who we spend quite a bit of time with, who have a daughter in my daughter's grade. When she's at our house for a play date without her parents, she's very bossy and won't back down when my daughter tries to tell her she doesn't want to do something. It's so hard for me to listen to. Any ideas? -- angelan1

A. Bossy kids can make great CEOs (someday!) but during childhood they can make life very difficult. Here are suggestions for you and your child:

  1. Whether it's because of this bossy kid or another, your child needs to learn assertive skills (all kids do!) and there's no time better than the present. Kids can't change their behavior unless they know HOW to change or what to replace their current behavior with. Anytime you want to help your child learn any new behavior, show her EXACTLY what to do instead.
  2. Assertive body language is actually MORE important than what your child says to this kid. She needs to LOOK assertive. You should practice "the look" a while. Her head must be held high (not wimpy) and she should be standing strong. Practice showing her what STRONG looks like. Even go to the mall and look for STRONG POSTURE. Spend time around the house practicing and rehearsing it together.
  3. Her voice must sound STRONG AND FIRM (not wimpy). She can tell her friend something, but unless she sounds like she means it, it won't work. Make sure you practice with her so she hears the difference between firm and wimpy.
  4. Reinforce assertive skills (over and over and over). She's not comfortable right now trying these new skills, so help her reinforce any little gesture.
  5. Now give her lines she can say: "I don't want to." "It's my turn now." "What if it's your turn, then my turn?" It doesn't make any difference what she says, but please give her a few ideas. She can then choose the "best" one (or the one she feels most comfortable with) and then try it out.
  6. PRACTICE IS CRITICAL. You are teaching her a brand-new habit. She's not going to feel comfortable using this habit for quite a while (just like we as adults take a long time to try any new habit). So rehearse and practice and do it over and over and over, like you're doing a play.
  7. Eventually, teach her little tricks like Rock, Paper, Scissors, or pulling straws and tossing a coin so she can be the one to suggest tie-breakers or make things fair. Bossy kids often don't think of the other kids.

If you're looking for more ideas, there are dozens in my book, Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me.

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