How to handle a bossyboots

Most kids go through a phase where they bark out orders like a drill sergeant, and often it’s simply a reflection of their growing confidence and self-esteem. But if your child thinks she’s in charge, it can lead to problems

When your toddler or pre-schooler tells you to get them a snack now you’ll probably be tempted to laugh. You might even watch fondly as they show their little brother or sister the ‘right’ way to do things, thinking what a great teacher they are. Perhaps you find yourself thinking that it’s just a little bit of personality coming through - and it’s true to say that it’s natural in a child this age. After all, they're getting to the stage where they've had enough of other people telling them what to do and want some control themselves.

Five years down the line, you could be stuck with a tween who’s been getting their own way for so long that you’re no longer in control of their behaviour. That scenario simply won’t work, because your child doesn’t have the wisdom or experience to take charge. Plus, there’s a danger that bossiness could affect your child’s friendships – after all, what child is going to want to spend time with a friend who keeps telling them what they can and can’t do? – and develop into bullying. So what steps can you take to stay on top of things?

Tips to tone down bossiness

• Pay less attention. Young children love playing to an audience, so don’t encourage them by laughing at them. Even negative attention is still attention, so don’t tell them off either.

• Don’t follow orders, If your child is making demands, don’t do what they say just for a quiet life – tell them to make her requests in an appropriate manner.

• Supervise playdates to make sure your child isn’t laying down the law to their friends. If they are being bossy, take them aside to tell them (don’t embarrass them by telling them off in front of friends). Alternatively, work out a signal you can use, such as tapping them on the shoulder.

• Get them to ease off helping their younger siblings, especially if you notice them becoming more passive because they’re getting so used to the older child taking over. Tell them that they need to do things for themselves in order to learn.

• Limit competition. If your child’s bossiness is a real issue, try to avoid letting them play competitive games and sports.

• Teach them how to ask nicely for what they want. Demanding things can be a hard habit to break, so practise phrases your child can use to ask for things politely.

• Defuse power struggles by offering your child as many choices as you can – that way when they opt for one of them, they’ll feel they had a say in the matter instead of feeling that you’re bossing them about.

• Think about the way you ask for things – you’re your child’s first teacher and it’s possible that their bossiness could reflect the way that you relate to them. Even though you’re in charge, it pays to be polite to your child so they’ll use her manners when they deal with their friends – and with you.

A bossy child is usually an assertive one, and assertiveness can be an asset as your child grows. Help them polish their communication skills and see all points of view, and that bossiness could turn into solid leadership skills.


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