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Why Is My Toddler So Bossy?

Have you ever thought that your toddler "rules the roost"? Or do you find that you have to make sure you do certain things in a certain way so that you can keep the peace, and avoid an upset little person? Do you sometimes feel like you're not in control but you child is? Do you find that you spend a lot of time negotiating? Or do you ever think that your child is smarter than you are?

If you've answered "no" to these questions, then there's no need to continue reading, but if you answered yes to any of them, this will help you to understand why your child does these things and what you can do about them.

When little people are being bossy, argumentative or negotiator, they are using their behaviour to control their environment. They do this to ensure it remains predictable as predictability and being in control feel safe and change is unsettling. Often, parents don't realise that their child is using controlling behaviour because it is so normal in their lives that they think it is "just what toddlers do". Which it is in some ways, but young children shouldn't need to control their environment to keep this feeling of safety if we, the parents, are creating a safe environment for them.


Most parents will find that this kind of behaviour has gradually crept in and has turned into a learnt behaviour, not necessarily for safety any more, just as a habit. And what often happens once it becomes a habit is that it escalate with ever increasing expectations that your child's demands will be fulfilled.


However, controlling behaviour isn't always obvious. Or at least it's not obvious when it's your child or toddler using it. (It's WAY easier to spot when someone else's kid is doing it!) And thankfully it's rarely intentionally controlling because it's usually learnt behaviour, grown from experience and response. It's just a natural progression from the excitement you have when your toddler starts using single words and pointing to things they want, and you willingly get those things without a second thought, and then one day you realise that your toddler is whining at your ankles constantly unless you pick them up, and follow their set of cute instructions (demands) to get you to move around the house, doing the things they want you to do so you struggle to do what you want or need to do!


Even though this is "normal toddler behaviour", it's a whole lot more too! Because when does it stop? And what happens when you try to stop it? Have you tried? Have you tried saying "No, I don't want to carry you round the house switching all the lights on and off, while I'm trying to get dressed"? Have you tried saying, "No, I don't want to eat your soggy chewed up bread that you're trying to push into my mouth"? And have you been met with a fierce reply or a tantrum? Probably!

Controlling behaviour is "normal" but that doesn't make it "okay". Just because it's normal, it doesn't mean you have to accept it and wait for the phase to end. It probably won't end until you change how you respond to it, because it is learnt behaviour, and the learning has come from how you respond when your child does these things. They will only learn something different when you give them a reason to change. A new response.


When you decide that you don't want to continue to facilitate this behaviour, do this:

  1. Sit down and write a list of all the things your child does that you think are controlling or bossy.

  2. Go through the list and think about how you react when they do each of those things.

  3. Write down how you could respond in another way so as to stop facilitating their bossiness. Something that would help them to understand that what they are doing at those times is unreasonable or unfair.

  4. Think about how they will react when you change your response, and how you're going to support them through those difficult feelings.

Once you've done this, you have a plan, so follow it. Be consistent. And be patient. You probably won't see immediate changes because you need yours and your child's new habits to replace the old ones and that could take a few days, so stick with it.


If your child is big into negotiations, just stop negotiating with them. They only do it because you facilitate the behaviour. If you give a clear instruction when you want something done, they are more likely to do it than if you ask for their opinion on doing the thing that needs doing. "How would you like to put your shoes one?" becomes, "Shoes on, we're going out." And "Would you like to play with Play-Doh?" stays as it is. "Would you like to sit at the table?" becomes, "Sit at the table. Dinner is ready." You can also give five minute warnings to help ease the transitions if you feel that your child doesn't take transitions well.


It's best to take a bit of time to look at what your child is doing and think about making these changes and how you're going to make them so that you know what you need to do. If you need help with the plan, get in touch with us on 07977 462252.

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