Q&A: Bossy Toddler?

What’s the best way to deal with a bossy toddler?
ByKate Roberts, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist in Salem, Massachusetts
Clinical Psychologist
Updated
Mar 2017
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Some toddlers are born trying to take charge of every situation; others are just passing through a bossy phase. Whichever category your toddler falls into, you’ll want to avoid constant power struggles. Starting out with a pattern of arguments, even at the “terrible twos,” can cause a habit that’s hard to break as your child gets older.

Start by setting limits without having a lot of emotional reaction. Of course, your child’s health, safety and wellbeing comes first, so in some areas — wearing a seat belt or holding hands while crossing the street — you have to be the one in charge. But with other, less important things, pick your battles. For example, if your toddler likes to dictate what she’ll wear each day, give her a few reasonable outfits to choose from.

She may just want to feel that she has a role to play in certain situations, and not that she’s always just being dragged along. So give her a job: Tell her it’s her duty to count all the blue cars during the ride to day care. Giving her some leeway and a sense of control, with some firm limits, helps her learn what’s really important. It will also make the whole family a lot happier in the long run.

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