We put a lot of labels on our kids somewhat reflexively, and they’re not all good. We see an undesirable behaviour and we point it out in the same way these behaviours were often pointed out to us when we were kids: Don’t be so stubborn, we say. He’s such a picky eater, we moan. Oh yeah, she’s really shy, we excuse. Maybe it’s because we don’t want them to grow up to be stubborn adults who won’t eat any vegetables and can’t hold their own in a group setting, but putting labels on them is not the way to avoid such a scenario. Another one we need to cut out of our language is bossy — especially when we’re talking about little girls.
I like people calling little girls “bossy” about as much as I like them calling women in the workplace “emotional.” In my experience, if a male is directing people around (whether on the playground or in the board room), he’s considered a strong leader, an alpha male. When a female wants to lead by being direct or showing assertiveness, she’s being bossy — a word that girls will quickly internalise as a characteristic with negative connotations.
No, we don’t want one little girl telling all the other kids what they can play and how they can play it, but we definitely don’t want to send the message that we would prefer they keep their opinions or their preferences to themselves. We don’t want them to grow up thinking that in order to be liked, they need to be quieter and less assertive.
Luckily, you don’t need to call your kid “bossy” in order to get them to stop being bossy. There are better ways to correct the behaviour, as Ashley Ortiz writes for PopSugar Family:
Instead of using the word “bossy” when describing a behaviour, Dr. [Marcie] Beigel encouraged caregivers to name out loud what the child is doing. If the child is leading a game without input from others, for example, you can say, “I hear you giving lots of directions. Ask your sister what she thinks about the game,” or “I see that you only want to play with the ideas in your head. It is important to include your friends’ ideas also.” Another example Dr. Beigel gave involved saying something like, “I hear that you want to sit in that chair but your brother is already in it. Why don’t you pick another spot at the table,” when your child is adamant about having things go their way.
Save the labels for the good stuff — strong, creative, caring — because kids have a tendency to believe they are who we say they are.