Episode 026: Sassy, Spirited, and Strong Willed Kids and Friends Part 1

We all know that sassy, spirited, and strong-willed kids have some really useful personality traits. “S” kids are generally strong, not afraid to say what they think, will stand up for themselves, and so much more.  However, they also have traits that make it hard for them to function well with their peers.  I polled the parents of our private Facebook to see what characteristics their kids had that were getting in the way of their ability to make a keep friends.  The parents answers feel into one of the two following categories:

  1. Loud and bossy with their peers
  2.  Anxious or shy around their peers

For the next two episodes, clinical mental health counselor, Mike Fitch teaches how to help kids in each of these categories function better in social situations.

In this week’s episode, we talk specifically about the Loud and Bossy kids while in next week’s we discuss the Shy and Anxious kids.  Both episode’s are jam packed with ways to help your children develop much-desired social skills.

 

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Mike Fitch, CMHC

Bossy and in-charge kids

These are kids that like to lead the play and be in charge.  The want to have things go their way. It’s hard for them to let others lead or choose the activities.

These kids might also struggle with personal space, picking up on social cues, and over-stimulating their friends.

Tools for the kids that have a hard to respecting personal space and inundate others with information

Teach these kids a good distance to stand from people, then practice at home.

Also, teach them to read body language:

  • Look at the person’s eyes-is the person you are talking to looking back at you or are they looking around? Are they blinking very often or just staring at you? If they’re looking around or not blinking, they probably are ready for the conversation to end.

    Also, are the person’s eyes glazed over?  Do they look engaged in the conversation or like they are spacing out?
  • Look at the person’s shoulders- if the person you are talking to has their shoulders square to you it means they’re interested in the conversation.  If the shoulders are pointed somewhere else, that indicates that they would like to be somewhere else.
  • Look at the person’s feet-similar rules apply for people’s feet as it does for their shoulders.  If the person you’re talking to has their feet pointed somewhere other than at you, that means they would like to go another direction.

Teach your child to be aware of verbal cues

  • Is the person that you’re talking to responding at all or just saying “uh, huh”
  • Is the person you’re talking to getting a chance to talk as well
  • Is the person you’re talking to asking you questions or just nodding their head?

Role play

I suggest role playing often.  Giving your kids an opportunity to practice at home with you will help them before they go out into the real world.  Take time to pretend to be someone who’s really interested AND to pretend to be someone who’s not. Practice standing at the right distance from each other, taking turns talking and listening, and picking up on physical/verbal cues.

While some kids will pick up on social skills naturally, others will really need you to help them.

I suggest role playing several times a week until you feel your child is starting to make some progress.

Let them practice in the real world

Find some people that you know and love, people who are supportive and understanding.  Schedule a time to get together with them to let your child practice the social skills they’ve been practicing.

Plan on your kids making some mistakes and try to see those as learning opportunities.  Keep things positive by keeping the playdates a good length.

Some schools or communities have social skills classes for kids that you might want to consider signing up for.

How to help kids that are bossy and like to be in charge

The trouble with the bossy kids is that they believe their ideas are the best and everyone else’s are inferior.  This makes it hard for them to play with others and it also makes it hard for them to want to listen to your suggestions.

Why strong-willed kids tend to be bossy

  1. They’re strong-willed, they are opinionated and really like to have things go their way
  2. It feels good to them to be the leader.  They get positive feelings from having others do what they say and look to them for guidance.

Signs that your child might be a bossy and in-charge friend

When they’re younger, they’re going to tell you that no one wants to play with them at recess. You might also see that they always want to lead the play when they have friends over.

When the child gets a little older, twelve and older, they’re going to have a series of short friendships.  It’s not hard for them to make new friends, but it is harder for them to keep friends.

Teach specifics

When you’re teaching your kids how to interact with others, it’s important to be specific.  You may say “be nice” to your child, but do they know what “be nice” means. Take the time to get really specific so that your children know very clearly what is OK and what isn’t.

Practice at home with your child

Teach your child the social skills you want to develop, then set up playdates with YOU and your child.  During the play dates, remind them of the social skills you have taught and tell them that you are going to practice those skills.

For example:

If you are trying to take leading the play, take turns leading the play.

If you are trying to teach them to be empathetic, be empathetic when you play together.  

If you want your child to see things from another person’s perspective, ask them often how they would feel in a certain situation.

Practicing with you is such a safe way to practice.  A lot of the social skills you are trying to teach your kids are really abstract and hard to understand without practicing.

Let them practice in the real world.

Sometimes I see parents so afraid of letting their kids make mistakes socially, that they try to keep their child home all the time.  It’s really important for kids to keep practicing, to keep making mistakes, to keep experiencing consequences, and to keep learning from their mistakes.  

Letting your kids practice a lot when they’re younger will save them from have to learn the hard way when they’re older.  Other kids are fairly forgiving when they’re younger and may be more patient with your child’s learning process.

Do some reflective thinking together

After a play date with either your or a friend, take some time to do some reflective learning with your child.  Ask lots of questions, such as:

“Did you still have fun when someone else was in charge?”

“How do you think others felt when playing with you today?”

Asking questions allows your child to have their own epiphanies without you having to lecture them.  If they can come to healthy conclusions on their own, it really is so much better.

The best teacher for bossy kids is going to be natural consequences

If you have a child that is really bossy, chances are kids aren’t going to want to play with them.  Kids not playing with them is the natural consequence to being bossy.  With some bossy kids, you can coach them to be more exclusive and with others, they’ll have to play on their own over and over again before they decide to change.

Don’t protect your child from experiencing natural consequences.  Even though it can be so heartbreaking to have a child left out because they are bossy, the discomfort of that will motivate them to change better than almost anything else will.

Do give them some ideas, but don’t try to save them. Do teach them how to share, be inclusive, take turns leading activities, be empathetic, etc.  But if they won’t listen to you, trust that they will learn from natural consequences over time.

It honestly may take YEARS before they make improvements.  That’s absolutely normal. Keep teaching, keep letting them learn, and keep being patient with the process.

Final thoughts

Remember that it is very normal for ANY child to have issues with friends.  Kids are young and they are just learning how to interact with others. Their learning process is going to be bumpy.  Be confident that if you keep teaching and allowing your children to experience the natural consequences for their behavior, they’re going to get the hang of it eventually.

Happy Parenting!

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