Monday, March 25, 2013

Mama's Little Helper: Dealing with a Bossy Toddler

In preparing for the arrival of Lady Peanut in July, we have been putting a lot of thought into making sure the transition to "big brother" goes as smoothly as possible for Jr.  Because Jr. is quite attached to his momsie and still mastering the skills of sharing, turn-taking, and empathy, I worry that he might really struggle in learning to share his mommy and daddy with his baby sister.   I have been asking all the experienced momsies I know for their best tips on dealing with new sibling jealousy, especially during these delicate toddler years. 

I hear one piece of advice over and over.  . .

Make sure Jr. feels like he is involved.  Encourage him to be your "little helper."  In encouraging him to help with the baby, he will not feel ignored or unimportant, but like he has a critical role to play.  In doing this, you can still give him the attention he needs, while encouraging a connection between him and little sister. 

I have heard this advice so consistently that I've been very intentional lately to encourage Jr. to be mommy's helper.  Often, because my pregnant belly is becoming uncomfortably limiting, I can really use his help in fetching a diaper, picking something off the floor, etc.  Plus, he really does enjoy being helpful.  We all win.

But, could it be that being mommy's helper can have a down side?  I'm starting to believe so.  Daddy and I often help in Jr.'s Sunday School class.  There are approximately twelve rambunctious 2 year-olds in his class, and they all display typical 2 year-old behavior (tantrums, difficulty sharing, difficulty separating from parents).   (If you can relate, you may want to read my posts on tantrums and biting,My husband and I usually tag-team quite nicely on Sunday morning, and handle those toddlers with few incidents.  However, I'm getting more pregnant, and yesterday's class was unusually large.  So, I called on "mommy's helper."  Jr. responded like a champ, fetching crackers and even patting a little girl who was crying on the back. 

But, as the morning progressed I started to notice an interesting trend.  Daddy responded to two boys fighting over a truck.  Little Jr. ran over, stuck his finger out, got very close to the fighting boys and stated firmly (albeit kindly), "Share, share, share!" as he wagged his little finger.  Mommy ran to wipe a little girls runny nose.  Closely behind came Jr., with an encouraging "Blow, blow, blow!" (So ironic, he never blows when I ask).  This interesting trend continued at home.  "Mommy, sit!  Mommy, sit!"  When I complied, Jr. responded, "No, sit HERE!" pointing to the opposite side from which I chose to sit.

I think we may be crossing a delicate line from being helpful to being bossy.  Lots of 2 and 3 year-olds go through phases of bossiness, or demanding that others do things their way (often without the proper "please" and "thank you"). Bossiness is common as children become more independent, strong-willed, and start to test their boundaries.  Jr.'s bossiness isn't mean-spirited, but this is the perfect time for us to start dealing with the bossiness before he becomes a totally obnoxiously bossy brat.   Here's my plan of attack:

  1. Encourage manners by modeling, rewarding, and setting a clear expectation that "please" and "thank you" are non-negotiable necessities.  Remind him that in order to be "mommy's helper," he has to use kind words.
  2. Avoid the "cute" response (smiling, laughing, snickering), which may encourage further bossy behavior.
  3. Discourage the bossiness by having private discussions (so as to not embarrass) about using kind words with friends. 
  4. Lavish praise for any evidence of appropriate manners, friendship skills, or turn-taking.
  5. Teach that helping and serving others should be done in kindness by modeling acts of service within our house and community with a smile on our face and a positive attitude.
  6. Keep perspective by reminding myself that this is normal toddler behavior.  It is a natural and necessary stage in establishing independence.  For everything there is a season.


  1. I failed. Because I laugh all the time. Fortunately, The Dudes are still pretty decent humans. Pretty sure it's in spite of me, not really because!

    1. Ah, nah. Sometimes you really MUST laugh! I'm sure your kiddos really benefit from your great sense of humor!

  2. With the help of my daughter's preschool teacher, I showed my older daughter what needed to be done for her baby sister and how to help. But what I think helped the MOST in our transition was the quiet time big sister and I get after the younger is in bed. There's no need to fight for attention, it's just her and I and our bedtime snack and snuggles. Since the older has dropped her nap, we also do quiet time together in the afternoons too. It makes my day a little longer, but it has kept the jealousy and rivalry - so far - to a minimum.

    Visiting from UBP13. :)


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