There’s nothing wrong with a kid having a strong opinion. But there is a fine line between being strong and opinionated and being rude to those around them. As a parent, the lines of authority become blurred very quickly when toddlers start asserting power and demanding control. During the toddler years, parents start to notice defiance, risky behavior, and extreme bossiness. And eventually you feel helpless and lost as a parent. You don’t have a functional way to get your child to obey. You’ve effectively lost control. Even a trip to the grocery store turns into an impossible task. You arrive and your child refuses to get in a regular shopping cart because he only wants the racing car shopping cart. He says, “No, no, no shopping cart. Racing cart only.”
About Bossy Behavior
Toddlers in general seem to be a little bossy and want things their own way. Dealing with a bossy child isn’t easy, but here’s some more information that might help. Why?
It’s a child’s way of feeling in control when their parents have all the power. We tell our toddlers everything they can and cannot do all day long. This can make them feel powerless over their own lives. Toddlers have poor social skills. They have yet to learn how to deal with other kids, or adults. They are still learning empathy and good manners. They are still developing communicating skills. They have feelings and emotions, as well as opinions, but they don’t know how to express themselves. Some kids are born with more dominant personalities than others. The dominant personality trait can come off as bossy. We often stereotype oldest children as more bossy too.
Strong willed kids like to be perfect and organized and they love following the rules. They believe things should be done in a certain way and it’s when other kids go outside the rules and that a bossy kid becomes frustrated and angry. You want them to learn to be nice to others, but you want to be careful not to crush their assertive spirit either. How do we teach our kids to express themselves without being bossy? The answer is to help them to state their feelings in a way that is polite and courteous.
Bossy and Assertive
Understand the difference between bossy and assertive. The words ‘bossy’ and ‘assertive’ are similar, and many people use the two words interchangeably. The difference between the two is small, but significant. The dictionary defines ‘bossy’ as “Fond of giving people orders; domineering”. Whereas, define ‘assertive’ as “Having or showing a confident and forceful personality”. It’s that subtle difference that makes one an unflattering label and the other an admirable character trait.
How to Deal With Your Kids Bossy Behavior
Never Call a Bossy Kid “Bossy”
Best to just forget that word exists. Calling a kid bossy and telling them no one will be friends with them will kill their confidence. Try using the word ‘assertive’ instead. Teach them that being assertive and strong-willed can be great attributes, but only if communicated in the right way.
Letting children choose makes them feel like they are in control. It is empowering for them to make their own choices. Small choices such as what color shirt they should wear, or if they want water or milk to drink with lunch, will make a big difference. They will no longer have the need to boss others around when they feel like they are making their own choices.
Be the Parent, Not the Friend
Children thrive on firm boundaries, rules and structure. This doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to flexibility as a parent. This means your child yearns for guidance and direction a strong parental leader. Don’t hesitate to fulfill that role for your child. Years down the road when they are grown adults, there is plenty of time for friendship. But now, your child adores your guidance.
Listen to Your Assertive Child
Kids need to be heard. Talk to your child about why they were being overly assertive. Hear them out. It’s often not to cause trouble, but because they want the other kids to follow the rules too. If you listen to them, you can help them learn how to communicate their emotions in a more constructive and polite way.
Enforce Social Skills
Teach children to say please and thank you. When they do boss, don’t give in to their demands. Ask them, “Is that how you ask for a drink of milk?” Or, “How would you feel if your brother didn’t share with you?” Bring social skills to their attention. Help them to learn empathy by pointing out other’s feelings and situations. Help them form good social habits, and in time, as they grow out of the bossiness, the good behavior will continue and fill in the gaps the bossiness left behind. Encourage them to think about the other kids and how their words can come across. And ask them what they think will happen if they continue to talk that way to their friends.
Have Clear Expectations
Establish household rules with your kids and remind them frequently. For example, when you go into the parking lot you need to walk next to mom or hold mom’s hand. Or you need to sit nice at the dinner table until everyone is done eating. Remind older kids of rules by keeping some “house rules” on the refrigerator or through a family meeting. For younger children and toddlers, remind them of the rule 10 minutes beforehand and again 5 minutes beforehand. For example, in 10 minutes we are going to eat dinner and you need to sit nicely until everyone is done eating.
Expect Push Back
Children will test boundaries. It is incredibly frustrating, yet testing boundaries is normal, healthy developing behavior. Yes, toddler tantrums are a good thing. It means you set a boundary. It means you are teaching, guiding and setting limits appropriate for your child. Having a good cry from time to time is positive for kids. Kids can not articulate their complex feelings and emotions like adults. Thus, crying can help release those emotions. If your expectations and boundaries are appropriate for your child, feel confident staying firm. Push back is often a sign of a job well done.
Reward Appropriate Behavior
If your child is cooperating, following the rules or acting helpful, there is nothing wrong with rewarding behavior through a special activity or praise. Connecting and recognizing the positives make a huge impact on turning behavior around.
Remember that you don’t want your child to grow up to be mindlessly compliant when they’re older, so it doesn’t make sense to expect that compliance now. Treating your children in a similar way to your friends will help them grow into the independent and self-reliant people they’ll become as adults. You want your children to have opinions, and express themselves when they’re adults. You want them to keep striving to be a better version of themselves, just as you continually strive to be a better parent. You want the best for your kids. You want them to be able to negotiate to get what they want, but without hurting other people.