My 10-year old son is an only child and very bossy. What can I do?
DR. RUTHERFORD: It’s not uncommon to see only children or first-born children be bossy towards other children. Perhaps this is because the parents expect more from the child and often treat him as if he were older than he actually is.
MOLLY: This was submitted from a parent in Salt Lake City, Utah. She also mentioned that her son likes to “tell everyone what to do and how to do it!”
What happens is that he’s unsuccessful at getting people to do what he wants and then he gets frustrated and angry. She also said that he doesn’t have any good friends even though he is very social and fun-loving and she’s wondering if, since he’s an only child and they’ve allowed him to “rule the roost,” if they’ve “accidentally turned him into a monster.”
DR. RUTHERFORD: I think the mother is on to something when she says that she lets him rule the roost at home. When that happens with kids, and it does seem to happen more frequently with only children or oldest children, the parents and the child have to sit down and have a very serious conversation. The parents have to own their own mistake that they’ve let him think that he is in control over their family life. They’ll need to tell that child that they’ve done him a disservice in letting him think that he does rule the roost, and that things need to change at home.
There are two ideas to share with this child: how to be more aware of his own behavior and how to recognize where it comes from.
One approach is to ask him if he notices that other kids have not been playing with him and follow it up with asking him why he thinks this is so.
Here is where we want to engage a child’s observing ego and his sense of self by asking him what he observes. He may respond with something like, “Well I tell the other kids what to do because they’re not doing it right,” or something like that.
Then his parents have to help him to see that most, if not all, people do not like to be told what to do. And, if they are always told what to do, they’ll stay away from the person bossing them around.
He needs to understand that only other children’s parents can tell them what to do, not him. His parents should realize that this is going to be a hard change for him because he’s gotten used to this pattern. Ask him, “How well is telling people what to do working for you? Do other people like it? Does it make them want to be your friend?”
This will need to be an ongoing conversation because he’s been doing it a long time. One conversation is not going to make the change.
It will be important not to yell at him or tell him what he should or shouldn’t do, but rather to speak calmly with him and engage his observing ego.
His parents should remember that this is going to be a long, ongoing process and he will need gentle reminders throughout that he’s not the boss of others.
MOLLY: Is there any way to do any positive reinforcement?
DR. RUTHERFORD: In this case, with a child who is likely doing most of this behavior at school and out of sight of his parents, and who is a little old for a sticker incentive chart, the rewards would come in the form of more friendly interactions with his peers.
While his parents can point out what he’s doing wrong with being so bossy, they then need to help him think of ways of how the interaction could have worked better.
This mom should try to be a role model for her son, and she may want to do some roleplaying with him to specifically show a better way to interact with others than by bossing them around.
It’s a long process, but at ten years old a child’s behavior is still malleable. If they wait until he’s twelve or thirteen, the chances of easing into a behavior change are much slimmer.
For everyone, the older we get, the harder it is to change our behavioral patterns. Of course, change is possible at any age, but it takes more effort as we get older.