'You're Not the Boss of Me!' is My Daughter's Favorite Line!

Filed under: Single Parenting, Twins, Triplets, Multiples, Expert Advice: Big Kids

Dear AdviceMama,

My almost-8-year-old and I butt heads a lot. She acts like she is the boss and I feel like I am always yelling at her. How do I get her off her pedestal? How do I let her know I'm the boss -- not her?

I'm the Boss

Dear Boss,

"You're not the boss of me!" was the theme song on a popular TV show a few years ago, and it struck a chord with every parent who's had a child proclaim their position as ruler of the roost. Kids easily become little emperors or empresses, and once they've tasted power, they aren't easily talked out of wanting more.

So, restoring your role as The One In Charge isn't a matter of telling your daughter that she can't call the shots, or negotiating with her for the position of boss. It's about calmly and confidently owning that role.

Being what I call the "captain of the ship" in a child's life starts with not being needy. Kids smell fear and desperation in their parents. If you approach your daughter saying, "I need you to start your homework," you've essentially told her exactly how to frustrate you: All she has to do is refuse to do her homework.

Once you've revealed that you need a child to do something and she refuses, you've backed yourself into a corner. Either you give in -- which teaches her that she really is the boss -- or you resort to bribes and threats. Even though you may end up getting your daughter to do what you've demanded, you will have done so from a place of weakness, not strength.

Instead, when you want your daughter to do something, tell her it's time to do it and then, walk away as if you're sure she's going to do what you've asked. "Time for homework, sweetheart. Let me know if you need any help -- I'll be in the kitchen, starting dinner." Act as though you assume she's going to do what you asked. Don't hover!

No doubt, your daughter will probably test you and avoid starting her homework. That's okay. Simply check back in after a few minutes and calmly remind her, "It's time for homework, honey."

The less you come across as needy, the more you can speak from quiet authority. If she says she doesn't want to do it, don't argue; simply acknowledge that you can see she's having a good time playing and it's hard to do something that's not much fun.

Most of all, don't escalate the situation by explaining why she has to do her homework or firing off threats or punishments. Speak clearly, and don't engage in battles or power struggles.

While I don't expect things to change overnight, I can assure you from having worked with thousands of parents and children that the less you come across as needing your daughter to do what you ask, the more genuine authority you'll have.

I often say, "He who is most attached to a particular outcome has the least amount of power." Keep this in mind as you parent, and you'll help your daughter recognize that you really are in charge, which ultimately will give her the comfort that comes from knowing she has a competent Captain of the ship at the helm.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.