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What is Another Word for Bossy?

Contrary to our perceptions, bossy kids are quite dynamic, strong, and brave. Let us ban bossy.


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Jennie Roe

3 years ago | 6 min read

Credit: Jason Rosewell, Unsplash
Credit: Jason Rosewell, Unsplash

In Defense of the Bossy Child

Bossy children get a bad rap. I suspect the reason is that bossy kids make people feel uncomfortable. Children are generally expected to play nice, share, take turns, and get along. They are to be deferential to the wishes, commands, and advice of adults because adults have lived longer and, logically, know better. You might not think of yourself this way, but take a minute to evaluate your approach to and interactions with children, and I guarantee this premise influences you on some level. Even the most progressive parents don’t let their children decide for themselves what is best 100% of the time.

This is, of course, not a bad thing. Good manners are essential and are something that I wholly agree parents are responsible for teaching and enforcing. Our expectations go beyond good manners, however. In actuality, the expectation is for kids to fall in line, cooperate, and aim to stand out, but only in a way that does not make others feel uncomfortable.

When a child is assertive, bold, loud, opinionated, and irreverent, this makes people uncomfortable. It goes against our conscious and unconscious biases against children. How can you be so sure of what you want at this age? Why do you challenge an adult’s opinion or knowledge? How are you okay with telling someone “no” and disappointing them? Why do you seem unconcerned with peoples’ opinions of you? Do you understand that you must share or other kids may not like you?

Whether we acknowledge it or not, these thoughts go through our minds when we encounter a person that defies the conventional wisdom of how people should act. We rarely examine the behavioral standards and expectations imposed on children. We want them to “behave” and we know our role is to raise “good” people who aren’t assholes. When kids are bossy, pushy, and not deferential, we become scared and panicked: Is there something wrong with him? Will the other kids alienate her? Will the teachers think he’s a troublemaker? Will she get bullied? Will the other parents judge me? Have I raised an asshole?

Contrary to our perceptions, bossy kids are quite dynamic, strong, and brave. They can also be misunderstood. A bossy child could have anxiety issues that cause her to overly exert control in a very uncertain world. Either way, we do not give them enough credit. I am not advocating for self-centeredness, rudeness, or permissive parenting. Rather, bossiness is more nuanced and complex than we realize. Our negative perceptions of bossy children may be more a product of our insecurities and desire to be accepted rather than their shortcomings. Our reflex to fix the bossiness rather than understand it may be hindering the development of a very special gift; that is, to be completely and utterly honest with one’s self and others. How we perceive, characterize, and treat our bossy children is paramount to helping them maximize their limitless potential. The trick to helping bold, outspoken, assertive children flourish is two-fold: eliminate judgment and foster empathy.

Eliminate Judgment By Changing Language

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.” — George Bernard Shaw

It is well established that language directs thought. The term “bossy” is loaded with negative stereotypes and connotations. It conjures up a person that is ego-driven. Bossy people are seen as pushy, domineering, and controlling, and those that interact with them often feel unseen and unheard. However, bossy people could simultaneously and just as fairly be described as bold, assertive, uncompromising, innovative, hard-working, and fearless. The difference comes down to perspective and choice of language. Innovative geniuses like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk are not reasonable people. They are demanding, passionate, persistent, and intense. To call these icons bossy would be putting it mildly. With this lens, is it better to be regarded as reasonable or unreasonable?

By adjusting our perspective and language, we permit our children to be bold, uncompromising, and unreasonable in the best possible way. Kids are constantly evolving, testing, experimenting, and changing. Rarely can we take what they do or say at face value. We usually have to look beyond the surface to understand what is going on in their rapidly developing minds. A tantrum is rarely just a tantrum; it can be hunger, tiredness, overstimulation, fear, or frustration. Kids are also novice communicators. They do not yet appreciate subtlety, innuendo, effective delivery, or finesse. As such, we should not be quick to judge their unrefined means of expression. What may present as bossy may just be immature communication skills. By reframing our children’s behavior, we expand our ability to understand them, which in turn expands their ability to understand themselves.

One of the easiest ways to reframe is to change our language. The words bossy, controlling, and temperamental can limit a child’s view of himself. They also assume a child’s behavior and personality are one dimensional. If instead, we used the words leader, fearless, bold, and innovative, suddenly we pivot to a mindset of limitless potential. Our children are not yet mature or wise enough to appreciate this distinction. We must show them why words matter. Belief in themselves begins with our belief in them.

Above All Else, Empathy

There is a limit to reframing bossiness, however. We cannot stop at eliminating judgment and changing our language alone. Bossiness and unreasonableness are still behavioral traits that parents have a responsibility to curb and correct, especially when they negatively impact one’s child and other people.

As such, the way to ensure that a child’s assertiveness, leadership, passion, and doggedness do not become ego-driven is to foster empathy.

Empathy helps children understand and share the feelings of others. It shows kids that the world is larger than their immediate environment and that their actions, words, and choices can have a ripple effect on people besides them. Bossiness becomes problematic when it is largely motivated by ego and self-centeredness. This is common among people who are insecure and overcompensate for their self-doubt by controlling other people. This type of negative bossiness is the opposite of fearlessness, and it is not what we want to teach or encourage in our children.

Pay attention to your child. If her bossiness seems to be a product of insecurity and anxiety, take a step back and address the root cause. In this case, bossiness could be a symptom of an underlying issue for which your child needs understanding and support. By giving it, and refraining from judgment, you model empathy. If her bossiness seems to be rooted in confidence, then teach her how to use that confidence in a way that acknowledges and considers how others feel. This doesn’t mean your child must always accommodate peoples’ feelings; it doesn’t mean that she won’t sometimes disappoint or offend others; it doesn’t mean she has to be less honest or outspoken about her opinions and preferences. But what it does mean is you are teaching your child a very important lesson about the meaning of positive bossiness, which is rooted in boldness and bravery.

Boldness and bravery are not about being indifferent to one’s critics; boldness and bravery are about acknowledging and understanding one’s critics, and doing the right thing anyway.

Girls Considered Bossy are at a Disadvantage

Take greater care and be extra vigilant about word choice as it applies to our daughters. Girls are twice as likely as boys to be called bossy. When boys assert themselves, they are called leaders. These gender stereotypes are real, and it led Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to create the Ban Bossy Campaign to bring awareness to and stop the unequal treatment of girls. When girls are told they are bossy, it signals them to stand down. Their strength, courage, and outspokenness are misinterpreted, judged, and cast in a negative light. Consequently, girls and women are less likely to lead. We must teach our daughters that they are not bossy, they are leaders. And regardless of how others view them, they are not to be discouraged from leading and instead persist. Read books to your children on strong female leaders who, against all odds, prejudices, and stereotypes, nevertheless persisted.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

A wordsmith is a skilled user of words. Let us be wordsmiths with our kids. It is beyond hard to understand our kids at times, to give them the benefit of the doubt, to trust that they are on the right path. The words we use matter, especially in these moments of self-doubt as a parent. Children see themselves in our eyes first before they ever see themselves for themselves. If you see them as a leader they will lead. If you see them as bossy they may feel shame and refrain from leadership opportunities in the future. See your child’s greatness, not in an inflated way, but in a fair way by focusing on their strengths and not their weaknesses. Your opinion matters most to them, whether they admit it or not. You have the power to lift them higher than anybody else in this world. Yet you also have the power to crush them. Use that power wisely.

Originally published at https://www.coolheadparenting.com on June 25, 2020.

Credit: Kiana Bosma, Unsplash
Credit: Kiana Bosma, Unsplash

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