I think it’s hard wired for kids to go through a bossy toddler phase. They have grown out of the baby days where everything is new and novel and have moved into the years of understanding their world to a degree of they know what they want and they want it now.
Whether it’s how we respond to these demanding comments or how we model politeness it to our children, they’re all important in the constant job it is to raise respectful and courteous children in a world that doesn’t seem to value it as much as it used to.
Ways to parent the Bossy Toddler and reign in the attitude
Set expectations and iterate “How do we say that nicely?”
Over and over again, we should be responding to the bossy toddler behavior with questions of how to reword or re-say what was already said.
Whether it is a tone of voice, phrasing, or something else, catching them in the moment is crucial to helping them understand that they
- don’t always get what they want, but that
- they’re more likely to get what they want if they approach a situation with a polite question.
Our toddler started doing this sing-song voice when we would ask her “how do we say that nicely?” and we don’t know where it came from. However, the chipper, high pitched musical voice is preferable to grumbly demands and whining.
Model Politeness, Graciousness, and Courtesy.
Our own actions are truly the best way to teach our children. Their words and actions closely resemble our own if we look carefully and even if we don’t want to admit it.
So it may seem like a no brainer, but I found that I demanded a lot of my toddler, so that’s all she had to go by. While I am the parent and expect obedience, I realized that it wasn’t difficult to ask in an authoritative way that still modeled some of the traits I desired to instill in her.
When I need her to go get me a diaper for sister, I stopped telling her to do it and started asking her to pick out her favorite diaper to help take care of her sibling.
Grab your free “parents’ guide to behaviors” download.
Don’t make “Please” a magic word.
Even if you’re not using the phrase “what’s the magic word?”, teaching our kids that when they ask for something, they need to say please doesn’t quite send them a message of needing to be polite and courteous, it just sets them up for failure many times.
The message of the magic word is that if they say it, they get it.
So then your bossy toddler doesn’t quite know how to respond or deal with the times they said please and didn’t get what they wanted.
Of course we still model and ask our kids to say please, we just don’t make it the key to getting what she wants. Most of the time we will say something along the lines of “You’re more likely to get what you want when you say please and ask nicely”.
Respond quickly to courteous questions and requests.
Not to say that you ignore demands, but being extra attentive to behavior you want to encourage is a subtle and effective way to instill these values in toddlers. Actually it’s a great way for anyone, even husbands, but that’s a different topic!
Deflect anger with well-guided responses.
Jenn went through a phase of demanding grapes and eggs in the morning. And originally I fell into this rut of saying things like “no”, “not yet”, or “in a bit” which sometimes intensified her demands.
I would deflect frustration for not getting what she wanted when she wanted by elaborating the steps to get it. I started saying something to the effect of “After you put on new clothes for the day, we’ll cook an egg together. Can you please pick out an outfit to wear?”.
This allowed me to fulfill the needs I had, modeled politeness, and was a response that gave her a path to her own desired outcome.
I have found very few times that intentional parenting phrases don’t work. Even times when she doesn’t want to go to bed or she wants to buy a toy, we turn to phrases like “let’s read a book and cuddle for a bit before you go to sleep” or “Won’t it be fun to come back and visit all the toys at the store next time?! We have to leave them with their friends this time”.
Write down the scenarios your toddler tends to be bossiest and formulate some responses! It truly helps. Even if it’s just a matter of how you respond to the situation. Instead of getting frustrated as a parent, you can have clarity to reply
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Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!