The Bossy Child

Do you have a bossy child? One who tells others what to do, how to play the game, what to say? A child who throws a fit if things don’t go her way?

Bossy child“Bossy” is a word that gets our dander up. “Bossy” typically translates for a frustrated parent as mean, rude, know-it-all, bully, show-off, controller—basically a child who will wind up with no friends. With labels and images like this swirling inside, the parent of a “bossy” child typically becomes controlling in reaction in order to stop the bossy behavior and turn it into socially acceptable behavior.

The problem with that: You are reacting to assumed ideas and predictions. Whether it’s from past experience or from witnessing other children not wanting to play with your child, you react to those fears—what you think is the truth. And fears interfere with the connection your child desperately needs from you.

In order to eliminate those fears and perceive your child differently, you must pay attention to what your mind is telling you and understand that this is not necessarily the truth. When you can be open, you are more able to reframe your assumptions and adjust your unrealistic expectations to ones your child can be successful meeting. Let’s break it down.

Why is my child bossy?

  • She is a persistent, assertive leader and knows how she wants things to go.
  • She gets very frustrated when others don’t see it her way.
  • Her sense of personal integrity is very strong and still immature.
  • She feels thwarted in her efforts to maintain control and uses her assertiveness to try to get what she wants. All developmentally normal.
  • Her immaturity means that she will not be considering how someone else feels, and she will not be able to take into consideration why the other child wants to do something different. This awareness comes with maturity.
  • When her efforts to be heard and understood by her parents are met with controlling tactics to get her to change, she gets the message she is wrong and fights back. Her “bossiness” may then turn to rudeness, bragging, or cruelty.
  • A naturally assertive temperament will become exaggerated when the child is tired, hungry or stressed in any way. When you see the aspects of this personality trait that shows itself when your child is doing fine, that is the direction in which your child is developing.

What can I do when my child is being “bossy”?

  • If he is directing others to do what he wants, leave him alone to learn from his friends. Some will do what he wants, others won’t. The natural consequences of his behavior are his best teachers.
  • Never call your child bossy.
  • If he shows disappointment or anger because his friends don’t want to play, you can role-play or problem solve with him to assist him in seeing his role in the problem. Telling him will not be nearly as effective and may send him negative messages.
  • If your child is going overboard, take him aside away from the others:
    • First acknowledge what he might want. “It looks like you want your friend to play the way you want.” Connection is made when you address where he is coming from.
    • Continue by acknowledging his frustration. “It’s frustrating when others don’t do what you want them to.” Now you have him. He knows you understand.
    • Then problem solve with questions like, “Why do you think he doesn’t want to do it your way? How do you think you can get him to play? What does he not like about what you want?”
    • When you ask questions, you allow him to think about the situation and what he could do. When you tell him what to do, he loses his ability to problem solve and may become dependent on your lead.


  • If your child’s bossiness pushes your button, you will attempt to control with manipulative tactics that will not be effective.
  • When you know your button has been pushed, stop — pause to think and give yourself a moment to breathe and come back to your senses.
  • Then acknowledge the labels you think or say to your child. Notice how thinking what you do causes you to feel — frustrated, angry, embarrassed, helpless, controlling. Then note that your feelings provoke your reactions.
  • To respond more effectively, you first need to change your thinking and the assumptions you are making about your child.
    • Instead of “bossy” or mean, think instead assertive, strong willed, goes after what she wants. Remind yourself that these will become wonderful qualities with maturity.
  • Tell yourself that she needs help right now because she is HAVING a hard time getting what she wants instead of BEING a pain in the neck. Her personality can get her in tough situations because of lack of maturity, not because of who she is.

When your child feels criticized for being the way she is, her innate traits will take a negative detour and may fulfill your worst fears. When you can account for stage of development and make connection with your child, you give him the support he needs to be confident. With confidence, his “bossiness” will turn him into the leader who will awe you.