Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Sunday Parenting Party - Bossy is a sexist term

Taming the Goblin

Its time for the Sunday Parenting Party. Please link up your parenting posts and check out what others have been up to this week. Please don't link Kids craft activities, these can be shared at the Kids Coop linky. This week I'm linking the following:
(Goblin is 43 months)

I've debated whether to write this post. I try not to write judgemental posts and this is sure to come across as one, but actually its asking that we mind the language we use with our kids. Some words are so much part of our culture that we use them without really thinking, but as someone who has been hurt by this particular name calling in my youth I felt I needed to share my concerns.

I want to talk about the term "Bossy".

Bossy is a negative word. Its a name we call children when they are "pushy" and tell others how to do things. Its a hurtful term and it damages self esteem. I should know. I was called bossy as a child.

And it occurs to me that 'bossy' is a term that tends to be reserved for girls. Lets face it when did you last hear anyone call a boy or a man bossy? One could argue that maybe its a trait that is only exhibited in girls. But I think we all know that's not true.

"Bossy" children .......

  • Know what they want
  • They communicate their needs and desires
  • They set direction for themselves and others

Often when they are doing this as young children, they don't consider other people's desires, needs or feelings. But that is the same if the child is a boy or a girl so why do we tend to only tell girls off for being bossy?

Other terms that could be applied to bossy children are

  • assertive, 
  • self-assured
  • dominant, 
  • leader, 
  • manager. 

And we wonder why we don't have so many women in the board rooms, in politics and in leadership roles. Could it be that every time this natural leadership talent rears its head during childhood, instead of nurturing it we give it a negative label and slap it down?

Of course it grates when a small person is pushy and demanding. But our job is to take the behaviour and show the child how to use the positive attributes of it. How to retain the self confidence and surety but add kindness and consideration. By labeling the whole action with the negative word "bossy", we diminish the child's desire to behave in that way at all. That can make them feel guilty every time they do. It weakens their self-worth.

If we keep calling girls "Bossy",  we undermine their desire to be confident, directive and assertive young people. This coudl have serious implications for their role in later life, so please think twice before you call a child bossy.


  1. I love this post. Is that you in the pic - great photo!. Yep, never hear a boy/man called bossy.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. My 3 year old girl is very 'bossy'. all my family say it, but I also say it's a good thing as she knows what she want's and is not afraid to let everyone know. she is very confident and self assured. I was also called bossy when I was her age too, until I was about 7 or 8, then became a very shy and timid child. and through my teenage years and early twenties had a social phobia and was scared of talking to people. Someone actually said to me just a few months ago that it could be that people always called me bossy and told me to stop behaving in that way, so I changed completely the other way. I another fact that you mention is that you never hear people calling boys bossy. I never thought about this before until you said, but it's true,

    Natasha x

  3. Do you know, this is a really good point! I've called The Boy bossy a few times recently and referred to a book we have called 'Duck Says Don't!' which features a very dogmatic and authoratitive duck who tells people what to do all the time. I'm going to have a think about my phrasing when trying to explain to The Boy that people don't like being told off or told what to do, but sometimes 'bossy' is exactly what he's being.

  4. Thank you for sharing this insight, I really had never thought if 'bossy' as being particularly negative, but it is definitely something you take into adulthood. It's hard and I'm not very good at it, but as I've got older, I like to say to myself : would I say that or use those words with a friend? If not, then I shouldn't be saying it to my children.....I would never call a friend "bossy" so this also applies. Have linked up a post from this week :)

  5. I agree with you. The thing that I find interesting is that I hadn't really started to dissect terms like this until having a child. I have gotten much more sensitive to these things as a mom.

  6. Oh, and thank you for the feature! I always forget to say that, because I get all excited about the content of your post! :)

    Also, "your"/"you're" is my worst achilles heel in the grammar category!

  7. I couldn't agree with you more. My little Sassyfras thinks she's meant to run the world. I'm exhausted at the end of the day, but man I can't wait to see what she does in life.

  8. This one sounds so familiar! I was constantly called a bossy boots while growing up, because I knew what I wanted to do and organised for it to happen! I'd never really thought about it mostly being a female term, but I think you are right. Thank you for making me aware of it, hopefully I will avoid doing the same to my daughter should she continue to be determined :-)

  9. I think you are so right about the word bossy. My husband and I were just talking about how our daughter might seem bossy or bratty to some people, but that is just what people call kids who are assertive, spirited, confident, and intelligent. They are only bad traits when they are kids, they are very desirable traits when they're an adult. It's ridiculous but that's just the way society sees it. They want kids to be seen and not heard.

  10. I hadn't really thought that much about the term I guess. Now I'm racking my brain about whether I use it with my own kids. I think when I have talked to them about "bossy" behavior it is with both genders equally though. But I will definitely be more conscious of it now. Thanks so much for your perspective, Monko!

  11. You're absolutely right! I too was called bossy as a child and because of it my sisters still do. It's crazy that if you know what you want and you assert yourself in a way that you go after what you want, it's a negative thing. Both my girls are assertive and I hope it stays that way. I do also want them to be empathetic, take others feelings into consideration, to be able to compromise and work with each other and other children. When they are so young and they are learning what it is they truly want, I just don't see the point in labeling them with names. Thank you for this. I'd love to share it on my Facebook page.


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