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You may have seen reports in the news media recently, highlighting the efforts of celebrity moms like Jennifer Garner and Beyoncé, who are rallying together to ban the word “bossy.”

They argue the word can limit the capabilities of girls, making leadership characteristics appear negative. Since then, LeanIn.org has partnered with the Girl Scouts of America on the “Ban Bossy” public service campaign. You can read more at http://www.banbossy.com.

Although I never really considered the implications of using the word, I’m in agreement and happy this conversation has been started. As I thought about it, the only time I’ve really ever heard “bossy” associated with a male was when my four-year-old called my dad “bossy” last week during a disagreement involving play dough.  I challenged myself to pay more attention, realizing the word is almost exclusively associated with females, whether in pre-school or in their adult years.Photo: ahchealthenews.com

Thinking back to when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten and I attended my first parent-teacher conference of her grade school career, I was told that she can be, at times, “bossy.”  I was quietly elated, only expressing my excitement upon returning home and relaying the story to family members. I was grateful my daughter had found her way in school and wasn’t being pushed around. What could be wrong with that?

I may have even felt a certain vindication that I had done something right. After all, this was the daughter who head-butted us when she didn’t get her way at 11-months of age. At five, she was on her way to becoming a self-assured little girl. She became known as the creator of all-girls clubs on the playground during recess. At a time when I didn’t know other parents’ names at birthday parties and school events, I would introduce myself as her mom.  On one such occasion another mom replied:  “Oh, yes, she’s the one who’s started the clubs.” At this young age, she had already made herself heard and known in her little world.

Although proud, I still talked to my daughter about the consequences of being overly aggressive, explaining that being a leader is good, but being fair and inclusive is also pretty important. I suggested that she start admitting boys to her recess club, and she agreed that made sense.

Erasing an adjective, as metaphorically as the cause may be, raises awareness but requires more from parents.  The “bossy” conversation needs some context, while we also highlight characteristics—not just words—that leaders should possess.

After all, as little girls grow, we don’t want those leadership skills to go awry. Could leadership behaviors we know to be very valuable turn into bullying? I believe parents can provide a lot of guidance here, fostering their young daughters to become leaders who also stand up for others, possibly even bringing dissimilar groups together. Being a leader is not mutually exclusive of being—simply as it may seem—nice.

Whatever words are used, there are actions that may be more reflective of that negative connotation that bossy brings. Young girls should be taught to pursue their goals with fervor. Yet, let’s face it, people who are unrelenting in any quest for self-gain may alienate others. Any well-thought, long-term strategy for success should be based on building relationships, forming bonds with others and achieving trust. Compromise is part of that equation. Let’s encourage young girls to be forthright, confident and also receptive to others’ feelings and opinions.

I’m grateful the celebrity moms started this conversation, even if they didn’t quite tell the entire story. Girls should be applauded for exhibiting leadership qualities without undermining the necessity of other skills—adaptability, empathy and objectivity. Real leaders listen to others, learn to assess the best ways of handling situations and manage these behaviors compassionately.

Julia Sherwin is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chester County. She is a former college journalism instructor who enjoys running, biking, swimming, traveling and cooking.

Email her at jsherwin73@gmail.com  and followe her on Twitter @JuliaSherwinPoPYou can also follow her other parenting articles at juliasherwin.wordpress.com.

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Photo: ahchealthenews.com