"These are your pieces, these are mine."
"You sit there. No there, in that chair."
"Get me milk."
"You draw a lion."
Listening to some young children speak, you would think they were in a managerial role, rather than that of a son, daughter or friend. All children have to learn to compromise, but it is extra hard for some children who have a natural tendency to tell others what to do or take on a "leadership role," to put it nicely.
In a way, it's wonderful that these children can ask for what they want, be assertive and speak up. They just need a little help to turn their demands and commands into requests and suggestions.
Try these phrases next time your child starts bossing you or someone else around:
1. "You choose what you draw, then I'll choose what I draw.
"These are your crayons. You draw ice cream."
I admit that for a while, I almost dreaded drawing with my toddler. He would only draw if I drew too, and he insisted on telling me what to draw and what colors to use. It was not the cozy arts and crafts time I had always pictured.
If your child starts to micromanage how you're playing together, they may need a reminder of which part of the game or activity is in their control. It may seem cute or harmless when it's just the two of you, but your child is learning how to play and interact. Gently guiding them toward being less bossy will help them in later social situations.
2. "You only need to be in charge of yourself."
Calling your child "bossy" might lead to feelings of shame, but you can certainly explain that they don't need to try to control everyone else. Try to put a positive spin on it, saying something like, "Isn't it a relief that you only have to be in charge of yourself?"
3. "It's not fun for me when you tell me what to do."
If you find yourself getting annoyed while your child repeatedly tells you what to do while playing, tell them, gently, that you're not having fun.
Children can sense when we're frustrated or annoyed, but they may have no idea why. Explain that you have a lot more fun playing together when they're not telling you what to do. Ask them if they would have fun if you told them where to put every Lego brick.
4. "You're telling me what to do right now."
Sometimes just bringing your child's awareness to the behavior is enough to stop it, especially if you've had conversations about the behavior in the past.
If you've discussed bossiness with your child many times, they likely only need a quick reminder. Bring their attention to the fact that they're ordering you around, in as neutral a tone as you can, and see if they can change course.
5. "She can make her own choice. What would you like?"
If you notice your child ordering around a friend or sibling, remind them that they each get to make their own choice. Alternatively, you can direct your commentary toward the other child, reminding them that they have a say too.
6. "You be the mama, I'll be the child."
Give your child a chance to play the boss. Then reverse the roles and let them experience the role of being told what to do. Role-playing is a great way for children to try out different situations and see what it feels like to be in the other's shoes.
Take 20 minutes every day and let your child decide what you play together. Even a short time of getting to be in charge of what and how you're playing can satisfy your child's need for control.
7. "What's a different way you could ask for that?"
It takes so much practice for children to learn how to ask for what they want in a kind and respectful way. They likely do not intend to be rude by demanding, "I want milk!" instead of asking politely.
8. "He can say no if he wants."
While it's often best to let your child handle conflicts and social situations on their own, you can offer commentary from the sidelines. If your child is bossing around a sibling or friend, remind them that they can make suggestions, but the other child has a say too.
9. "Let's have a playdate with your older cousin."
If your child is the oldest or an only child, make sure they have the opportunity to play with older children as well. Playing with an older child can automatically reverse the roles so that your child experiences what it's like to be the little one, the one being bossed around.
Of course, not all older children are assertive or will take on a leadership role, but experiencing play with different social dynamics will help your child figure out how to play successfully in a variety of situations.
It's possible to guide your child toward a more effective way of interacting with people, without labeling them as "bossy" or making them feel ashamed. With a little help from you, your child can harness their assertiveness and leadership skills and learn to ask for what they want without alienating the people around them.