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Why Gifted Children are Bossy and What to Do About It

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No child is perfect and most parents know their child is no exception. One fairly common fault of gifted children is bossiness. This fault can be rather puzzling to parents when it exists in a child who is otherwise sensitive to the needs of others.

Girls seem to be accused of being bossy more often than boys do. The most likely reason for this is that the same behavior in boys is seen as leadership, a positive trait. Little boys who try to organize and direct the behavior of others are seen as exhibiting strong leadership skills and are praised for it. Little girls who do the same thing are told they are being bossy and that the other kids won't want to play with them. The message for little girls is that getting along with others and being accepted is more important than honing their leadership skills.
 

What Causes Bossy Behavior?

  1. Need to Organize
    Some gifted children need to organize everything, including people and activities. Because they are more cognitively advanced than their non-gifted age mates, they may also have a more advanced understanding of group organization. They know who should do which job and how each job should be done. Rather than wait for the other children to figure out how to work together to get a job done -- even if the job is to play a game -- these gifted children will take charge and get the activities organized.
     
  2. Love of Complex Rules
    Most games designed for and by children have relatively simple rules. However, gifted children need more of a challenge than such simple rules provide. As a result, they may attempt to create more complex rules for play and direct the other children to follow them. Since the other children have not generally agreed to follow the rules of any one child, that child will be seen as bossy. However, when gifted children play together, this is not usually a problem since all the gifted children will attempt to make up complex rules. They may end up with an interesting new game made up of rules contributed by more than one child.
     
  3. Need for Control
    When most people think of bossiness, they probably think first of control. It is certainly possible that a gifted child may just want to be in control of a situation much like anyone else. However, this is not the typical cause of bossiness in gifted children.
     

What to Do About Bossiness

  1. Appeal to Your Child's Sense of Fairness
    Suggest that the other children might want a turn at organizing the play and even at making up some rules. This can be difficult, however, because non-gifted children generally don't make up the same kinds of complex rules and their rules may lack logic.
     
  2. Appeal to Your Child's Sensitivity to Others
    The fairness issue alone may not work, but if used in conjunction with an appeal to your child's sensitivity to others, it can help. Let your child know that the other children may feel bad or get their feelings hurt if they never have a chance to make the rules or direct the activity.
     
  3. Talk About Good Leadership Qualities
    Most children, and many adults, don't understand that leadership isn't about control alone. It is also about giving other people a chance to show and develop their strengths. Talk to your child about what makes a good leader. Getting your child understand the difference between control and leadership can help him or her see why their "bossy" behavior is not effective. It will also let your child know that you don't disapprove of the attempts at leadership, just the particular methods. F. John Reh, About Guide to Management, discusses the qualities that make a good leader in his article The Best Leader I Ever Knew. Although it is geared toward adults, you can discuss the qualities with your child. One quality, for example, is humility.
     

What NOT to Do

  1. Do not tell your child that no one will want to play with her if she is bossy. This sends the wrong message. It tells a child that getting along is more important than anything else. More importantly, however, it could make a child feel that something is wrong with her. She may even feel that you care more about the other children than you do about her.
     
  2. Do not discredit your child's frustration. It can be difficult for a gifted child to give up some authority to others, especially when the the others aren't able to devise complex game play or are disorganized. If your child expresses such feelings, validate them and let her know you understand.
     
  3. Do not expect your child to become a perfect leader overnight. While your child might intellectually understand the problem, it will probably still be difficult for him or her emotionally. The asynchronous development of gifted children can make it difficult for them to cope emotionally with concepts they understand intellectually.
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