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Bossy child needs to be taught restraint


Q: When my 6 1/2 -year-old daughter and I visit friends, go to a party or have company over, she makes a total nuisance of herself with aggressive behavior. She bosses other kids around like a drill sergeant. At a birthday party, she talked to the magician throughout his performance and continued interrupting after he tried to discourage her. I hesitate to take her anywhere. What can I do?

E.S., El Paso, Texas

A: Why would a child act this way? That's the first thing you need to figure out, and the possibilities list is long.

When her 6-year-old acted this way, Nancy Auerbach of Wannacue, N.J., says she was looking for attention and acceptance.

"Let the child know she is loved and accepted and people know that she's there and she's not going to be ignored," Ms. Auerbach says.

Sometimes the way children act is the way they're treated, says Jennifer, a mother from Santa Clara, Calif. "This mother needs to look at her own behavior, because children tend to mimic the behavior of adults around them," she says.

Children who are the center of attention at home are often allowed to interrupt their parents, says Marilyn Gootman, author of "The Loving Parents' Guide to Discipline" (Berkley, $4.99).

"It helps to encourage children not to interrupt even at home," says Dr. Gootman, an assistant professor of early childhood education at the University of Georgia in Athens.

"This teaches children that there's a give and take in any conversation."

Intense, determined children often don't notice nonverbal boundaries, says Mary Kurcinka, author of "Raising Your Spirited Child" (HarperCollins, $11).

"Some children are so driven to learn, talk and get their hands on things that they miss social cues," says Ms. Kurcinka, a parent educator who lives in Eagan, Minn. "You have to teach them."

Begin by pointing people out in stores or by looking at pictures in magazines. Ask the child if these people are happy, sad or frustrated and how she can tell. Then point out differences in expression and body language.

Learning these cues won't happen overnight, and in the meantime, Ms. Kurcinka agrees with the many parents who called Child Life to suggest that this child needs clear expectations and firm limits on her aggressive behavior.

"I would tell the little girl ahead of time what kind of behavior is permissible and what kind is not," says Mary Colvert, a reader from Athens, Ga. "Explain to her that if she violates these rules, she will not be allowed to stay and participate."

Because of their intense personalities, Ms. Kurcinka says words alone won't be enough for many of the kinds of children who tend to behave this way.

"Some of these kids are physical learners, and you must use actions like taking them out of the room," she says. "Particularly with intense, persistent kids between the ages of 3 and 6, you must combine words with actions."

The removal does not have to be harsh and punitive, says Dr. Gootman.

"You can teach your child that it's good to be curious and have ideas, but you have to be aware of the people around you, too," she says. "She needs to know that if she continues this behavior, nobody will want to be around her."


Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* Kids and alcohol: "I'd like to hear how people handle alcohol in the family setting," says Leah Jewell of Fresno, Calif. "We have a 1-year-old daughter, and we don't know whether we can have a drink with dinner or if we shouldn't drink in front of her at all. How do we handle that?"

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