• Shelly Barnes: Bossy can be just another term for leadership skills

    By Shelly Barnes -

    Recently, my childcare provider and I had a lengthy conversation on my daughter’s daily behavior. It seems that Ripley, almost 4 years old, was dubbed a “little bit bossy.” Bossy. I’ve heard that term somewhere before. Oh, that’s right. People used to refer to me as being a little bit bossy. So, I look at it like this. She gets it honest.

    I like to refer to these bossy behavior traits as strong leadership skills. Someday she will lead a group of people to a common good. And I can’t wait to see her lead that group. For now, I enjoy watching her grow and mature into a little girl with positive leadership skills. It’s a work in progress and I’m thankful to have a good team of family, friends and our childcare provider to help. Raising children really does take a village.

    Positive leadership skills are probably the best way to term this issue among preschoolers. Bossy is more of a negative term. We need to build children up and help them learn and explore the world around them. Making good decisions is part of that process. And learning how to be a good leader is, too.

    Do you have a little leader in your family? I bet sometimes it can get a little overwhelming dealing with them. Children who develop their natural born leadership skills constantly work on various ways to get what they want. They typically think of a variety of ways to persuade others to be on their team. This behavior can be difficult to deal with, and some parents may be at a loss on how to deal, unless you’re a natural-born leader like me. Just kidding, I probably have to work on these areas more than the average parent.

    Here are some tips on how to deal with your little leader. I have found that there are two categories that help me in dealing with my little leader. They are preventing misbehavior and handling behavior problems. The first is always the preferred method, but this takes a tremendous amount of work and attention. I find that on days when I’m tired or more distracted, the latter is where I’m spending most of my time. Ugh.

    • Prevent misbehavior: Catch your child doing good. Thankfully, Ripley’s love language is words of affirmation. She will naturally give me 100 percent if I just praise her for doing well. When children are behaving well, they deserve attention. They will quickly learn that good behavior is the way to be noticed.

    • Choices: When children are given choices. Some examples are an apple or banana for snack, a red shirt or a blue shirt to wear, painting or coloring as an activity. They feel a sense of power and control over their lives. This also helps them learn to make simple decisions.

    • Use warnings or explanations: Giving children time to adjust from one activity to the next will ease transition and reduce resistance. I usually try to explain to Ripley what our plans are for the day. I do this multiple times a day to make sure she remembers the plan. This helps her feel part of the planning process and gives her time to accept the plan as hers. For example, the children are busy playing. You let them know supper will be ready soon. Then you periodically give them a count down until it’s time.

    • Handling behavior problems: A calming time may be used to separate fighting children or calm an over excited child. You should calmly explain to the child that they must sit quietly for a few minutes. You could consider giving one minute per their age. For example, a 3 year old would get three minutes. Calming time gives children time to simmer down and think about their behavior. I suggest using the calming jar activity with older preschoolers. For instructions, check out msue.anr.msu.edu/uploads/236/57246/Calming_Jar_Instructions.pdf

    • Redirection: This takes time and energy on your part. It’s important to study your child’s habits so you can anticipate the negative behavior and redirect the child to an alternate acceptable behavior. Changing activities or calling attention to a different toy are great ways to redirect.

    As you can see, there are a variety of ways to help your little leader develop positive leadership skills. Building these skills is a typical part of child development. Doing your part to focus on the prevention of misbehavior will save you a headache in the long run.

    And just remember, parenting is tough. Give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, even if you don’t feel like it. Children need a loving, caring, positive, supportive and safe environment to grow into healthy adults. As long as you’re doing that, you’re doing a great job. Keep up the good work.

    For more information about love languages, check out 5lovelanguages.com.

    For more information about preschool child development, check out healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Child-development-4-5-years.

    Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides real life solutions. Visit ag.tennessee.edu. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.

    Shelly Barnes is an Extension agent with UT Extension in Wilson County. She has degrees in child development and family studies and is mama to preschooler, Ripley and toddler, Davis. For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences-related topics, contact Barnes at [email protected] or 615-444-9584.

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