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Molly Skyar - Family

How will our parenting decisions today affect the adults our kids will become tomorrow? Molly Skyar, in open conversation with her mother, Dr. Susan Rutherford, views our parenting through a psychologist’s perspective.

Question: My 10-year old son is an only child and very bossy. What can I do?


WVM August 2014 Molly Skyar FAMILY ImageDR. SUSAN 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 her son likes to “tell everyone what to do and how to do it!”

What happens is he’s unsuccessful at getting people to do what he wants, and then he gets frustrated and angry. She also said he doesn’t have any good friends even though he is very social and fun-loving. 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 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.

There are two elements that need to be present in order to change a behavior: to become aware of when you do it and to recognize why you do it.

To help him become aware of the behavior, his parents could ask him if he notices 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 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 who is bossing them around. He needs to understand it is not his job to tell other people what to do.

To help him recognize why he is so bossy, his parents will have to own their own mistake of giving him too much control over their family’s life. They’ll need to tell the child they’ve done him a disservice in letting him think he is the king of the household rather than the child in the family, and that things will need to change at home as well.

His parents should realize 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. While his parents can point out what he’s doing that appears so bossy to others, they then need to help him think of ways he could have interacted without being bossy.

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 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 an incentive chart with stickers, the rewards would come in the form of more friendly interactions with his peers. These moments should be applauded by the parents.

This mom should try to be a role model for her son, and she may want to do some role playing 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 significantly more effort to change as we get older.

Molly Skyar and Dr. Rutherford publish “Conversations with My Mother,” an online resource for offering practical parenting tips and psychological insight into raising kids. Dr. Rutherford is a Clinical Psychologist in practice for over 30 years. She has her undergraduate degree from Duke University, a Masters from New York University (NYU) and a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Denver. ContactWebsiteFacebookTwitter

© 2014 Molly Skyar

Photo Credit –  imagerymajestic