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100 Tips for Nannies and Families

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Bossy Toddlers

Oh, she knows what she wants.  She knows what she likes.  She expects everyone to behave accordingly.  Have I mentioned that she’s three years old?  Here’s a little information about your powerhouse toddler.

  • 1. Her strong will, when properly channeled, is an asset. She may try your patience right now, but that strong will can help her say “no” when, as a teen, a classmate repeatedly offers her illegal drugs. Thus, your goal is not to eliminate her strong will, but merely to channel it within proper social boundaries.
  • 2. Her strong sense of self is also an asset. This child can have tremendous capacity for accomplishing great things: she knows what she wants, and she can exhibit great effort to accomplish her goals. As a parent, then, your job is to help her shape her goals. Long-term goals that focus on social good are to be encouraged. For example, perhaps she would like to grow up to be a “cancer doctor” because she loves science and saw how cancer affected her grandmother.
  • 3. As a toddler, she does not yet have the ability to understand “later”. What she does understand is “right now”. So, if she wants a caramel apple, she may not have the ability to conceptualize that she can have the caramel apple, but not until after she’s eaten her dinner. Nonetheless, you must maintain your position. As she matures, she will come to understand “later”, and your laying the foundation for that understanding now is essential. Further, if you bend to her will, she will learn a lesson in that as well (i.e., that stubborn insistence will get her what she wants). That perception, uncorrected, will lead to a very difficult set of adult behaviors.
  • 4. Her emotions can be surprisingly deep and complex. If she is insisting that you color with her, perhaps it’s best to find out why she feels so strongly about that. Maybe she’s simply in the mood to color and does not want to perform that task alone. On the other hand, perhaps she thinks that you have been too busy to attend to her lately: she thus is feeling hurt, rejected, and in need of reassurance from you. Or perhaps she has just mastered coloring inside the lines and she is anxious for you to praise her for her enhanced fine motor skills. If you ask her why she feels strongly about whatever she is insistent about, you may find that the issue is worthy of your consideration. (Note: she may not be able to articulate precisely how she is feeling or why she is feeling that way. Actively listening on your part, combined with asking just the right questions, can elicit the answers you seek.)
  • 5. Sometimes, the best response to a bossy toddler is simply to say nothing. Just hug the child. Often, the insistence softens after a good, long, loving hug.

Bossy toddlers can try your patience, but the underlying causes can be admirable (i.e., strong will and sense of self) and endearing (i.e., feeling a need to bond with you).  By maintaining a long-term perspective through the tough times with your bossy toddler, you can help your child use the very traits that created the bossiness to become an extraordinary teen and adult.

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