Toddlers can be headstrong little people, that’s for sure. They are just coming into their independence and are willing to express it anyway they think they can. Sometimes the expression of their independence leads to the toddler bossing the family around. This can be a difficult situation. Here are three tips for unbossing a bossy toddler.
The best offense is a good defense
This sounds trite I’m sure, but the easiest way to help a toddler stop being bossy is to not let it get started in the first place. Toddlers work on a very self-centered thought pattern. If their behavior is rewarded, they will continue in the behavior. So, if the bossy behavior got them what they wanted to begin with, then they will continue to boss others. The best way, then, to stop the bossy behavior, is to make sure it doesn’t get them what they want when it’s first exhibited.
Sometimes parents give into a bossy toddler because it was “cute”, or because they didn’t want to deal with correcting the behavior. These two mindsets only allow the behavior to be rewarded and reinforced, which makes the behavior that much more difficult to change later on. Bossy behavior can have severe negative effects on a child’s ability to socialize with peers later on, and shouldn’t be coddled.
Firm, but kind, correction should immediately follow the bossy behavior, every time it is exhibited. Saying things like “We don’t boss others in our family,” and then immediately removing the child from the situation will reinforce that the bossy behavior will not get them what they wanted. This will go against the toddler’s self-interest focus and the bossy behavior will diminish over time.
Modeling the appropriate behavior should also be a big part of this process. If parents don’t want bossy children, then parents should not be bossy with their children or each other. Using “please will you” and “thank you for” will help children learn that people use those phrases when asking for favors, or when receiving the favors. Also, using polite phrases when instructing children will help reinforce that is the way our family speaks to others.
Consistency, consistency, consistency
If, however, the bossy behavior has been established, then it is time for consistency. With any behavior modification, it takes time and repeated correction to see an improvement in the behavior. It also takes a lot of positive reinforcement for when the child is behaving appropriately. A good rule of thumb is that for every correction there should be three instances of praise. So, when trying to help a toddler unlearn some bossy patterns of behavior, it is important to be consistent in the application of expectations and natural consequences, consistent in the use of praise to highlight good behavior, and consistent in modeling proper behavior.
Teach assertive phrases
It is important to not confuse assertiveness with bossiness and to teach toddlers the same. It is certainly appropriate to ask to use a specific toy. That’s being assertive. Grabbing at or demanding the toy is bossy. And the line between the two can be very difficult for a toddler to understand. Taking time to talk about how to ask for a turn with a toy will help the child know what to do in the situation. A large portion of bossiness comes from the child not knowing another way to express what it is they want. Helping them develop the words and phrases for these types of situations will help them be able to better navigate these situations.
Bossiness is something that takes consistent effort to control and change. Many times the biggest issue is that the child doesn’t have the right vocabulary to express himself or herself in any other manner. Bossiness is easier to correct the sooner it is dealt with.