Why Some Gifted Children Are Bossy

Boys playing outside in the park
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No child is perfect and most parents know their child is no exception. One fairly common fault of gifted children is bossiness. This fault can be rather puzzling to parents when it exists in a child who is otherwise sensitive to the needs of others.

Causes of Bossy Behavior

There are several connections between giftedness and bossiness that may explain this behavior.

Need to Organize

Some gifted children need to organize everything, including people and activities. Because they are more cognitively advanced than their non-gifted peers, they may also have a more advanced understanding of group organization. They know who should do which job or play which role and how each should be performed. Rather than wait for the other children to figure out how to work together, gifted children will take charge.

Love of Complex Rules

Most games designed for and by children have relatively simple rules. However, gifted children need more of a challenge than such simple rules provide. As a result, they may attempt to create more complex rules for play and direct the other children to follow them.

Since the other children have not generally agreed to follow the rules of any one child, that child will be seen as bossy. However, when gifted children play together, this is not usually a problem since all the gifted children will attempt to make up complex rules. They may end up with an interesting new game made up of rules contributed by more than one child.

Need for Control

When most people think of bossiness, they probably think first of control. It is certainly possible that a gifted child may just want to be in control of a situation much like anyone else. However, this is not the typical cause of bossiness in gifted children.

Girls seem to be accused of being bossy more often than boys do. The most likely reason for this is that the same behavior in boys is seen as a positive trait.

Boys who try to organize and direct the behavior of others are seen as exhibiting strong leadership skills and are praised for it. Girls who do the same thing are told they are being bossy and that other kids won't want to play with them. The message for girls is that getting along with others is more important than honing leadership skills.

What to Do About Bossiness

If you notice your child bossing others around, you might start by appealing to your child's sense of fairness. Suggest that the other children might want a turn at organizing the play and even at making up some rules. This can be difficult, however, because non-gifted children generally don't make up the same kinds of complex rules and their rules may lack logic.

The fairness issue alone may not work, but if used in conjunction with an appeal to your child's sensitivity to others, it can help. Let your child know that the other children may feel bad or get their feelings hurt if they never have a chance to make the rules or direct the activity.

Most children (and many adults) don't understand that leadership isn't about control alone. It is also about giving other people a chance to show and develop their strengths. Talk to your child about what makes a good leader.

Getting your child to understand the difference between control and leadership can help him or her to see why their bossy behavior is not effective. It will also let your child know that you don't disapprove of the attempts at leadership, just the particular methods.

What Not to Do

Do not tell your child that no one will want to play with them if they are bossy. This sends the wrong message. It tells a child that getting along is more important than anything else. More importantly, however, it could make a child feel that something is wrong with them. They may even feel that you care more about other children than you do about them.

Do not discredit your child's frustration. It can be difficult for a gifted child to give up some authority to others, especially when the others aren't able to devise complex gameplay or are disorganized. If your child expresses such feelings, validate them and let them know you understand.

Do not expect your child to become a perfect leader overnight. While your child might intellectually understand the problem, it will probably still be difficult for them emotionally. The asynchronous development of gifted children can make it hard for them to cope emotionally with concepts they understand intellectually.

1 Source
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  1. National Association for Gifted Children. Leadership.

By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.