How to Discipline a Bossy Child

Bossy Kids
Bossy Child Behavior

Bossy kids need firm limits on what is appropriate to fire off at others. The reason for the bossiness can be one of two things:  First, they sometimes learn to be bossy from another person – a parent, friend, family member, whatever. If someone is modeling bossy behavior, they need to stop, or the kid needs to stop hanging around that person. They’re giving the kid unintended lessons. The child needs modeling and guidance on being flexible and positive instead.

The second reason for bossiness could be demanding behavior gone unchecked.  I’ve seen perfectly loving parents let a strong personality run amok. The intention of the parent is to handle the demands in a calm and gentle way, but it somehow ends up making the parent into a doormat. The child never gets real punishment (P in our guide), so the demanding behavior is reinforced, and the child starts bossing the parents around and consistently getting away with it. The end result is a child that seems very spoiled.

Whatever the reason for bossy behavior, address it!  Make the kid cut it out! Make sure they do NOT get what they are being bossy about. If they’re bossing friends around and you see it, make sure to nip it immediately and give them the opposite of the demand. For example, Jenny’s bossing her friend around and dictating, “Let’s play this board game now. You can be the red pawn.”  As soon as you see that, step in.  No ma’am. Your friend will choose the game, and your friend can be whatever pawn color she wants. We do not act bossy.

If you are the recipient of the behavior, great balls of fire, do not let that child get away with it! If she orders you to take her to her favorite restaurant for lunch, get some authority. Excuse me. We do not tell parents what to do. You need to apologize to me.  Wait for the child to apologize appropriately. If she doesn’t, model it for her and make her repeat after you. Next tell her, if you’d like to go to Sandwich Express, you can ask me politely next time. For now, if you’d like to eat, you can go in the kitchen and make yourself a ham sandwich with apple slices. You’ve lost the privilege of my help. I expect you to use appropriate language in the future.  And don’t let her stomp off with an impudent, ‘Fine’. Stop her and make her start over with a response. I’d even say, ‘Fine’ is not a respectful answer. You may answer me with ‘Yes, ma’am or Okay’.  Make her repeat it without being sassy.

With younger children, bossiness will look more like demanding behavior. They’ll insist you buy them chocolate milk instead of white, or be persistently rude about a gift they got. “I didn’t want the white car, I wanted the blue one.” This doesn’t seem so bad, right? Wrong. This is why it turns into bossy behavior. It may seem like they are only voicing a strong opinion, and it’s easy to let that slide. Don’t. Tell them that is rude and let them know what they need to say and do instead. When someone gets you a gift, you act grateful. Period. It’s okay if you’re upset because it’s not the one you wanted, but we don’t say that out loud. You tell them “thank you so much” and you smile. Do you understand?

By the way, when using  “Do you understand” make sure that you are actually sincere in your question, and not using it as a punctuation to your lecture. Kids need to feel like they can ask questions to clarify if they truly don’t understand. However, if you use those questions simply as a means to make it clear that it’s your way or the highway, you close the door to communication. This can translate into a sulking, uncooperative child. Obviously, you need to stay firm when guiding your child, but find that balance of firm authority without sounding overly dictating.