9 Things to Say When Your Little One is Being Bossy

9 Things to Say When Your Little One is Being Bossy

The key is to teach your child empathy while encouraging him/her to be confident!

It feels a bit embarrassing when someone makes comments about your little one like “wow, look at her! she’s quite a bossy child!”

But you can forgive them for thinking that if all you heard from your toddler’s mouth were things like “you sit here” and “this is mine”.

Bossy has such negative connotations. It’s no wonder you’d react defensively if someone described your child that way. But is asking for what you want such a bad thing?

9 things you can say to a bossy child without always saying “no”

Being bossy implies that it’s wrong to ask for things.

However, parents aim to raise confident children who are assertive and self-assured. 

Alfie Kohn, a well-known author and educator on parenting, said no parent wanted their children to be “mindlessly compliant”.

At the same time, you want your little one to listen to you and be obedient, but not stretch it too far. After all, being too strict can have lasting effects into adulthood like alcoholism!

Striking a balance between obedience and assertive is a fine line.

Navigating that route is tough as you want your child to be confident, yet not push the boundaries too much.

If you feel you have a bossy child, don’t fret. Your child says those things or acts that way because he/she is mimicking behaviours seen at school or from other people.

Apply some positive parenting to guide your little one to less bossy behaviour while helping them to remain confident.

Here are some ways you can respond the next time your kid gets bossy!

1. “It’s okay to do things differently”

bossy child

Image source: iStock

It’s common for bossy kids to start telling other people that they should stop how they’re doing things. 

“Draw like this” or “Pick this one” will pop out if you’re playing a game or having some craft time.

If your child starts micromanaging how playtime goes, remind him/her which part of the activity is under his/her control. So this might mean reminding your little one that you can draw how you want, and he/she can draw how she wants.

This is especially useful if it’s just the pair of you playing together. Doing so helps your child learn how to play and interact with others and will be carried over to different social settings.

2. “How would Johnny feel about that?”

Sometimes, your child has every right to be bossy. For example, another child snatched a toy from my kid’s hands.

She said, “that’s mine! Give it back now!” 

And while she had every right to be upset, I had to explain to her that it makes an important difference in how it’s said since it affects someone else’s feelings.

If you catch your child demanding or saying something in an unpleasant way, ask him/her how the other party feels after hearing that. You can flip it around and ask how your child would feel if someone said that to him/her.

Notice the absence of the word “bossy” to describe or label any behaviour!

3. “What would you like to do?”

bossy child

Image source: iStock

Help satisfy your little one’s impulse by allocating some time where he/she gets to choose the activity and how it’s run.

You can role-play and let your child be the parent, while you be the child!

Or you could suggest inviting special guests to the party, like Peppa Pig or whoever your kid’s favourite cartoon character or celebrity is.

It provides a fantastic opportunity to model how you want your little one to behave.

4. “He can choose what he wants. What would you like?”

See your little one barking orders at other children? Remind your child that everyone is free to make their own choice.

While you’re at it, you can also let the recipient of these orders know that he/she also has a choice too! 

5. “How can you ask that differently?”

bossy child

Image source: iStock

When your child is bossy or rude, he/she isn’t acting that way intentionally.

With enough practice, the way we talk or act can become a habit.

While you continue to be a role model for your child, take the opportunity to prompt your little one on alternate ways to ask or say things if it’s not respectful. 

Done enough times, being polite but assertive will be second nature.

6. “It’s alright if she says no”

Allowing your child to learn how to handle conflicts on his/her own is important. However, from time to time, you can offer some advice when you see your little one relentlessly telling someone another option exists (even if the other child or adult has already picked!)

Give a simple reminder that other children can also make suggestions and are also able to say no if they want to.

7. “What do you think I will say next?”

bossy child

Image source: iStock

It’s important to be able to say yes as many times as you can. You want to avoid rejecting your child all the time.

If you need to turn down a request or let your little one know he/she is crossing into bossy territory, then you can use a precursor by asking what will you say next.

It gives your child a chance to practise empathy, as well as give you an opportunity to explain why a correction needs to be made.

8. “I can stay here for five minutes, or I’ll come back to check on you in ten minutes. Which do you like more?”

When your child is particularly demanding, setting parameters can really help soften the blow.

This is especially helpful if there is something to diffuse difficult situations. For example, your child might demand you sit by the bedside until he/she falls asleep.

Offering different options teaches your little one to make good choices, as well as help you avoid doing anything you’re not comfortable doing.

9. “Let’s ask your older cousin to play with us!”

bossy child

Image source: iStock

Giving your little one a taste of his/her own medicine can help put things into perspective.

Playing with older gives your toddler a chance to experience being bossed around.

However, not all older kids are assertive or bossy. But it does give your child a chance to learn how to play in different environments and with different people. Experiencing various social dynamics helps your child tone down the bossy attitude.



It’s not surprising if you have a bossy child. The behaviours or things said are likely picked up from someone else. But with patience and some gentle redirection, your child will have a greater appreciation for other people and learn how to play nice in different situations.

Put positive parenting into practice to iron out that sassy attitude!

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Written by

Vinnie Wong

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