Parenting kids who want to be boss

6 August 2018

Parenting kids who want to be boss

  • Behaviour
by Michael Grose

If you are locked in a power struggle with a child or youngster, then you’ll be forever battling to get some cooperation unless you make some adjustments. The coercive approach won’t cut it as they’ll refuse outright, or just dawdle along on their own terms.

Any of these situations sound familiar?

You are trying to get a child to do something and they just won’t play your game. Your request for help is met with an excuse or, worse, an argument. Reminders about bedtime are met with a defiant, ‘NO!’ or worse – dawdling. “I’ll go to bed later,” is the response from some children. It’s infuriating!

Most families will have at least one child who insists on getting their way and doesn’t like to be told what to do. I call them ‘Make me’ kids because everything about their demeanour at times wants you to ‘Make them’ do what they’re told. These kids value power and don’t shy away from a fight.

Some kids refuse to cooperate when the tone and language of coercion is used. These kids value control and want autonomy, so you need to communicate in a way that doesn’t trigger their need to wrest control from you.

Avoiding power struggles

Power struggles between parents and children are common. Often “Because I said so” becomes more important than the issue we are fighting or arguing over.

The key reason for this battle of wills between parents and difficult kids fundamentally comes from a desire for control. 
If you are locked in a power struggle with a child then you will forever be battling with them for cooperation unless you take a different track with them.

Forget the “Do this and do it now!” approach with these kids.

It may have cut it in the past and it may be effective with ‘Well-behaved’ kids, but it doesn’t cut it these days, particularly with kids who want to be the boss.

These kids refuse to cooperate when the tone and language of coercion is used. These kids value control and want autonomy, so you need to communicate in a way that doesn’t trigger their need to wrest control from you.

Such kids respond well to the language of cooperation, which involves giving them a choice, and is more about asking for help than demanding compliance. You don’t have to grovel, but you do need to watch your language with these little power-seekers and remember that cooperation is won, not demanded!

Taking a different approach

Here are some strategies that will increase the likelihood of getting cooperation from kids who like to be the ‘Boss’:

  1. Don’t fight over every issue: Cut the little ‘Boss’ some slack and let them make some decisions themselves. If you want a say in every area of their lives then you’ll soon find yourself locked in power struggles over relatively inconsequential issues like clothing, bedroom tidiness and food. For instance, if a young child doesn’t want to wear a jumper in winter then so be it. There are bigger parenting fish to fry! I see parents exhaust themselves over minor battles so that when big issues come up, they just give in!
  2. Tell them what you will do: Most of us tell kids what to do, which they promptly ignore. It’s far better to tell them what action YOU will take. This subtle shift in language has a huge impact in terms of getting some cooperation from ‘Make me’ kids. 
Next time you want to tell you child what to do, catch yourself. Instead, tell them what you are going to do. 
Here’s some examples: “I’ll serve ice cream when you are seated at the table.” 
“I’ll listen to you when you have calmed down.” 
“I’ll drive when you are quiet.” 
Get into the habit of focusing on what you will do, rather than on what they should do and you’ll start to see an shift in terms of getting cooperative behaviour almost immediately.
  3. Let consequences work their magic: 
Of course, you need to stop nagging kids about their behaviours and allow them to experience the consequences of some of their poor choices. This removes you from the power struggle and lets experience be their teacher.

Power-hungry or bossy kids challenge parents who are authoritarian by nature, or who were raised in very authoritarian ways. These kids need smarter handling if we are going to get cooperation from them. They are often referred to as stubborn, disobedient, pig-headed and argumentative. The flip side is that they can be strong-willed, assertive and determined individuals.

Either way they can present difficulties to us as parents as we manage them on a day-to-day basis, particularly when they directly challenge us.
 But with a little change in parenting style, they can grow into wonderful kids who are confident in their abilities and comfortable making independent decisions.

Learn so much more about getting cooperation from kids in my Win kids’ cooperation with fear, tears or cauliflower ears webinar. Registration is only a click of the mouse away.

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Michael Grose

Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s an award-winning speaker and the author of 12 books for parents including Spoonfed Generation, and the bestselling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It. Michael is a former teacher with 15 years experience, and has 30 years experience in parenting education. He also holds a Master of Educational Studies from Monash University specialising in parenting education.