How to Handle Bossy Children

mom drinking orange juice with toddler boy

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You are perfectly capable of choosing your own shirt. You know what you like and want to eat. You are even absolutely fine with deciding what magazine you would like to read. Living with a preschooler, though, you may find that there is a pint-sized someone in your home who thinks they know better than you (and their friends, and their teacher and everyone they come across).

During the preschool years, you may find yourself suddenly dealing with bossy children. Not a fun stage, but a perfectly normal and expected preschool behavior.

Luckily, this is something you can get through, without your home turning into an absolute monarchy (or you or others staging coup d'état). Here's how.

Be Patient

One big reason why children are bossy is that they are simply mimicking behavior they see every day. Not to say that you rule your home with an iron fist barking out orders at every turn, but your preschooler knows that you tell people what to do (specifically him and his siblings) and wants in on the action.

They are also learning to express what she wants. While bossiness and assertiveness aren't always favorable traits, they can be an asset (in small doses) when they get older. With a little direction (and redirection) you will be able to channel these attributes into leadership skills.

Ask for a Behavior Change

If your preschooler starts telling you or someone else to do things, remind her of using manners.

Explain that you are more likely to do something for him—play a game, read a story, help her change his shoes—if she asks nicely, rather than demands it.

Give Him Some Power

Bossiness in children often stems from a child just trying to get control of a situation and his life. This is especially true as a child matures and becomes more independent. So, create situations where your child can make a decision or serve as a "grown-up."

For example, when it is time to sit down and eat lunch, offer two choices (making sure that either choice is acceptable to you). If you are getting ready to play a game with your child, let them decide which one. Let them "supervise" a younger child getting dressed. In these instances, your child can actually be the boss, satisfying their need to be in charge.

Get Teachers and Caregivers Involved

If you suspect your child's bossiness has transcended your home, ask adults who are involved with your child on a regular basis to help you monitor the situation and get involved when needed.

Turn the Tables

When your child starts to bark out orders at others, pull them aside for a quiet talk. Ask them how she would feel if their friend starting to tell them what to do. You don't want to come out and tell your child they won't have any friends if they keep being bossy, but you can explain that children may want to play with someone else if they don't get a chance to do what they want to do.

If the situation is a competitive one—the kids are playing a game for instance—try redirecting them to do something else.

Teach Him How to Ask the Right Way

Model good behavior to your child. Instead of telling your child to fill the dog's water bowl, ask politely: "Can you please fill Spot's bowl with water for me?"

If there is an instance when your child begins to boss you around, correct them on the spot with language that you would prefer her to use. (Don't necessarily do this in front of friends or siblings, though, your child may be embarrassed. Either pull them aside into a private area or speak with them after your audience is gone.

Explain That They Can't Always Get Their Way

Hearing people say "no" is a lesson of life that your preschooler is better off learning now. Your child may want their brother to go down the slide or use the tire swing instead of the seesaw at the playground, but their younger brother is a person who is entitled to their opinion.

Explain to your child that they can certainly ask people to play a certain game or bring them a toy, but they are allowed to say no.

Praise Them for Being Polite

When your child behaves in a way that is appropriate, call it to their attention. They'll be happy you noticed and will more likely to continue acting and speaking that way in the future.

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