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Everyday Parenting

“Bossy? Good for You”

“Your daughter is a little mad at me today”, one of her teachers told me as I picked her up.  “What happened” I asked, as she seemed to reluctantly continue.  “She was being bossy today to some of her friends and I scolded her a little.”  Initially I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.  I know that my daughter has a strong personality, one that we nurture and are proud of but can be a little off putting at times.  I knew exactly what she meant, I also know that if she hasn’t had her lunch yet,  she can be downright mean.  The wording though, using the word “bossy”, irked me a little bit.  I’ve used it myself many times, but what was I really saying?  It was the first time I was confronted with something I had said myself, and how it made me feel.  In fact, both of her parents could be considered “bossy” , and that is precisely what has led us to be entrepreneurs, leaders and trailblazers of our own paths.  In our home we reward leadership skills, and “bossy” seems like a very thin line between describing behavior, and belittling someone.  It certainly made me re-think the times I have used it to describe someone, including my own daughter and decided I wouldn’t use it anymore.

Fortunately my daughter didn’t take it that hard.  “Your teacher says you are mad at her today?” I asked her.  “Oh, well, a little I guess.”  She told me the story about how she shouted to another child at her table to stop copying her work.  I stopped her there immediately.  “Good for you!” I said.  She looked absolutely puzzled.  “You should have told her to stop copying your work, you did a good thing.”  “But I got in trouble…” she stammered.  “And you are being congratulated at home.  Good for you, don’t worry about it”.

I have no idea how to explain this effectively.  It seems confusing even as I write it.  I tried to tell her it was like how there are certain words she can say at home, and words that aren’t appropriate for the classroom.  “Stupid” for example.  I mentioned how at home we might wrestle and rough house, but at school she dare not try it due to the rules there.  I didn’t know the situation completely, nor if her side of the story was exactly accurate, so we left it at that.

Sometimes I feel like I have to spend half of my afternoons after school helping my daughter unlearn the social lessons she learns from her teachers and peers.  School is tough socially, and I wish I could help her navigate through it easier, but aside from a little advice here and there, she has to work through it herself.  We have had a long year of kids and teachers both that have sent her home with messages that might not necessarily agree with what we teach at home and we work through that.  We also have had many that we feel have helped reinforce our parenting.  It’s a mixed bag.  For the record, her teacher has been great, and has really helped nurture her in the classroom in many ways.  It’s the little things though, that seem insignificant at times, that give us great opportunity to talk to our daughter about blazing her own path, and deciding what lessons to learn from and which ones to forget.  It’s not always what we say, but what we mean, and I leap at any opportunity to build her up, not bring her down.

I’ve tried to take many of my daughters complaints with a grain of salt when necessary, and when my daughter tells me about her day I will generally delight in the stories of her learning, working with friends and interactions with her teachers and their assignments, but occasionally I am puzzled about the type of rhetoric that gets tossed into the routine.  I feel like as she grows up, I grow up with her.  I think the real lesson is learning to cope with things we can’t exactly control.  I’m not going to take her out of school because of small communication rifts, but it certainly allows me to open a dialogue with my daughter and help her understand the differences people face, and how to navigate differing opinions.  I don’t think she should taper her behavior or opinions to anyone else, you cant please everyone, but she should be proud of her sassy attitude, and know when to use it as an asset and when exactly to tone it down.

Heavy stuff for a kid that’s in first grade, but the important part right now is she has parents that are engaged enough to even consider the interaction and how it might make her feel, and we go out of our way to open a dialogue with her about whatever we can.  It keeps us relevant, in the know, and lets her know she can talk to us about anything. Sometimes we just have conversations about what was for lunch, what boys she likes, or who wears stinky shoes in class.  I give her that much attention and offer my advice (don’t sit next to the stinky shoes at reading time) as little or as much as is needed.  Most days I just let her talk, but when I can see she feels a little discouraged, it’s a perfect time to let her know that her “Bossy Dad”, is proud of his “Bossy Daughter”, and so is “Bossy Mom”.

Do you ever feel like you have to help your child “unlearn” things she’s picked up at school?  Have teachers or their friends negatively influenced them and you are ready to rip out your hair?  You aren’t alone, and so far I have learned the best way to combat that is communication, and unconditional love.

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