You’re not the boss of me! Children who want to be in charge

“You’re not the boss of me!” Is this a phrase that sounds familiar to you? It is often hurled at a parent, by a miniature rebel, with little fists on hips, body leaning forward, chin jutting out and maybe a foot stamping on the ground. These are the children who are likely to act out their fury – asking themselves why life has dealt them such a severe blow as giving them a parent like you! If this is ringing a bell, please read on. Perhaps this will help. To use my ‘animal type’ descriptions – you have a ‘lion’ in the house!

‘Lion’-type children have a huge desire to win anything; a race, a game, an argument or just attention. A mother once spoke to me of her three- year-old daughter who often said “Mummy, I want to be first-est”. The mother also confided, “I know she will be a fabulous adult…but, I don’t know if I can hold out that long!”

What these children, and sometimes similar adults, need to understand, from as early an age as possible, is that not everyone has their zest and drive…but, that doesn’t make others wrong – it only makes them different.

Parenting ‘lion’ children is not easy but, sometimes, neither is being a ‘lion’ child. A ‘lion’ child’s primary need is to be listened to; having something to be in control of and being respected are also high on their list. Yes, they will be great adults, and the world needs good leaders – but how should parents raise them, and what coaching do they need to help them thrive and survive their childhood, when their needs are not actually often age-appropriate?

Get them involved

Your ‘lion’ child should have some involvement in making the rules your home operates with. (I hope you have some – you will need them!) If you have other children, they must also be part of this process, but the main beneficiary will be the child (or children) who most need to have some control of their environment. Have a family meeting, and agree together on the rules.

Avoid conflict

... specifically screaming matches. These children are likely to excel at these, and their need to succeed means they will say anything that they feel will help them win. When they are really up against the wall that can be words like “I hate you!!!!” The good news is they actually don’t. What they hate is the fact that you have control and they don’t.

Cool off

When disagreements happen, as inevitably they will, everyone must take time to cool off. It is essential for both adult and child to know what it takes to get the ‘heat’ out of their system. For young children this could be sitting in a designated place (previously mutually agreed, at a time of calm), going for a walk or run, jumping on the trampoline or anything that is known to calm them down.

Give them a chance to lead

Make your ‘lion’ child aware that you understand their need for leadership and allow this to be a positive thing in your family. Give them something in the family to be in control of. If you don’t offer leadership in some area, they will make their own choice of what to control which will be designed to cause maximum aggravation. For youngsters it could be that they can choose the menu for the day, which park to go to, the family movie to watch. Allow them to be king or queen for the day as a reward for good behaviour. This has the added benefit of helping them realise that being in charge is not ‘situation normal’. As they get older encourage them to coach younger kids at anything they excel at, particularly in sport.

Give them words to use

As early as possible give your child a wide vocabulary that can describe feelings and emotions. Empathy is not the strength of ‘lion’ children, but it needs to be encouraged, and giving them the language will allow them to express themselves emotionally when they need to. I did this with my own son from an early age and when he was four I remember him sitting on the step looking very puzzled and saying “Mummy, I think I’m having a feeling.” I think this was one of his first ‘aha’ moments!

Raising a lion child can be a difficult journey but you could be raising our future leaders, so we all need you to be successful. You will need much support along the way but if you care for and guide your ‘lion’ children well you will be there to celebrate their many achievements. One day you may even hear them say “You are the boss of me…and that’s OK.”

©Copyright 2010, Personality Dynamics Ltd.
Extract from article published in ‘Parenting’ Magazine, Issue 30, Spring 2007