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Handling a Bossy Child

QUESTION: My eight-year-old daughter has begun to speak to us in a rude and disrespectful manner. She is very bossy and really resents being told what to do. When we are in public, she is very well-behaved. Is this normal for a child of her age?

ANSWER: Your daughter's behavior is both normal for her age and no doubt reflects a part of her own developing personality, too. Contrary to popular belief, testing limits can occur throughout childhood, not only in the toddler and adolescent stages.

The fact that your daughter is well-behaved in other social settings indicates that she is pushing the limits at home to see how far she can go in a safe environment. It is also possible that she is overaccomodating in other situations and saving all of her resentment for you. If so, she feels safe expressing herself at home and may be letting off steam for "holding it all together" in other places. If she does possess natural leadership qualities, it is more likely to be the former rather than the latter. She may simply be trying out her administrative talent on you.

Consider your observation that she "resents being told what to do" at home. Could this quality result in anything positive? If so, begin to reflect this to her. For example, "You really like being your own boss" or "You like being in charge of things." Also, look for activities that are non-problematic which reflect this, too. Does she have things she can be in charge of and feel proud about? Taking on responsibility for feeding a pet, for example, can help channel her "bossy" energy without challenging your authority.

Accept her feelings of resentment, but let her know your requirements and expectations about her behavior. Be specific about the "rude" behavior you want her to change. For example, if she omits "please" or "thank you", and simply gives orders or makes demands of you, take the approach of teaching her better manners. You might tell her that she is being rude and the consequences for it. Do not respond to her requests without a "please" and take things away from her when she does not thank you appropriately.

Let her know who is "boss", but stop short of squelching her strong, independent nature and you will both be happy with the outcome!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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