As a parent, all you’re trying to do is raise your children to be functional human beings. But basic human nature very rarely cooperates. You probably have a “What About My Child Makes Me Anxious” list that you’re constantly … well, worrying about. If one of items on that list is “My Child Is Bossy,” Little Sunshine’s is here to alleviate some fears and give you some tips on how to raise your naturally assertive child in the healthiest way possible.
Bossy vs. Assertive
A huge clarification to start — the name of this article is not “How To Create Compliant Children” for a reason. Children need to learn how to clearly (and at times, assertively) express their thoughts and opinions. Building their confidence and reiterating that they have the power to speak up are incredibly important things to do as parents.
Here’s an important thing to keep in mind as you read:
- Assertive kids use their strong personalities to create boundaries and express the control they have of their own person. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
- Bossy kids use their strong personalities to control the actions of other people. This is the behavior we want to address and modify.
If you have an assertive kid who knows how to speak their mind and set boundaries, nurture that and teach them how to communicate with compassion. However, if your child is truly bossy, there are some things you can do to help them dial it back some.
3 Tips for Bossy Kids
Here are three things to remember as your parenting a kid who is just a little bossier than those around them.
1. Identify Why They’re Being Bossy
If you go to a counselor or therapist to talk to them about a struggle you’re having, they may ask you, “What else is going on in your life?”
Put on your therapist hat and ask the same question about your child: “What is going on in their life that is making them act bossy?”
There are lots of different answers to that question, and each one would mean a different response from you as the parent. Is your child …
- Excited about their great idea? Just like with toys, ideas need to be shared. Have them take turns with their playmates on whose ideas are front and center instead of insisting their way is the only way.
- Needing control? Involve and include them more in everyday routines and tasks. If they feel in control or included in other things, they won’t feel the need to exert their “authority” in other ways.
- Forgetting about other people’s autonomy? Your kiddo may be forgetting that other people have the right to say “no.” This happens a lot with older siblings bossing around their younger brothers and sisters. They see adults telling children what to do, so they think the title of “boss” is immediately awarded to the oldest person in the room. Not so. Remind them that younger kids have the right to refuse their commands.
2. Flip the Script — Help Them Be Helpful
If we look at the conversations we have with our children, we may recognize an uncomfortable truth: Most of what we do is boss them around. What your kiddo might be doing has less to do with their personality and more about modeling your behavior.
For parents who frequently read this blog, there’s a (potentially frustrating) line we often repeat: Be the example for your child. It’s frustrating because it can often highlight shortcomings or missed opportunities and unintentionally cause a flare of guilt in parents. That’s not what we want! There is absolutely no judgment. Parenting is hard, and no one gets it perfectly. (And if they’re Instagram reel makes it look like they do, they’re lying.)
This is another area where some guilt could bubble up, but we encourage you not to. If you find yourself bossing your child around, flip your mindset. Instead of always using commands, use an invitation. Instead of, “Pick up your room,” say, “I need your help picking up the house. Let’s go!”
Now, there’s no guarantee there won’t be grumblings or refusals. But that’s not the point. The point is you got them to participate in something using an invitation to be helpful instead of a command for compliance. Do that enough times, and you may be amazed to see your child do the same thing with you and with others.
3. Don’t Use the Word “Bossy”
Not to be bossy … but don’t use the word bossy.
Going back to the original point, the word “bossy” is often used in a negative way to describe kids who are actually assertive. This is especially so with assertive girls. While assertive boys are often positively labeled as “future leaders,” assertive girls are negatively labeled as “bossy.”
Regardless of their gender, if children are constantly told they are bossy and need to change, they may be less likely to pursue leadership opportunities or express their needs in a relationship as adults. Instead of using negative labels like “bossy,” try only to use labels when your child is doing something great. That way they only have good words pumped into their brain as they build their identity.
Keep in mind that, depending on the age of your child, some of these concepts may be beyond their developmental level. For example, a toddler in the middle of their Tumultuous 2s may be bossy no matter what you do.
Keep setting the example, though. Eventually, the foundation you lay down on how to engage with others will pay off in your child’s behavior.