Ask 1-on-1 Coaching: What to Do When Your Child Thinks He’s the Parent!

Posted July 10, 2009 by

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Do you have one child who bosses your other kids around — and who seems to think they are the parent, instead of you?  There are few things more frustrating for a parent than watching one of their kids giving their siblings directions and correcting them for anything or everything. And it’s even worse when your other kids start responding to your ringleader child instead of you!

I think that parents often have a hard time getting to the bottom of this because not only is it an aggravating behavior, it’s one that parents mistakenly view as an attack on their authority. That can be a possibility with an older child who may be dropping rude comments in front of younger siblings, in the form of, “Don’t listen to Mom, she’s stupid and has no idea what she’s talking about.” I’ve had parents tell me that this happens with adolescents as well as even younger children.

And here’s what I tell them: You need to have a sense of what your child is trying to accomplish by behaving this way in order for you to effectively take the right steps. Assess what’s going on for your child. Is it boredom, poor impulse control, anxiety, attention-seeking behavior? These are all examples of the problem your child may be attempting to solve when badgering and bossing a sibling (or siblings) around.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if this is happening at your house:

  • Variables like age and personality can easily set the stage for annoyance. That can be a common trigger for a child’s inappropriate behavior — and harassing a sibling with constant demands might be their way of responding.
  • Keep in mind that if you have a large family, your child may actually think they’re being helpful and making it easier for the parents if they dole out directions. In this case, I would recommend that you praise their intention and guide them towards more acceptable ways of contributing.
  • The behavior might be at a point where ignoring it in the moment may be enough to discourage it. In other cases, you will have to set a clear limit with your child by letting them know that giving other kids in the home orders isn’t okay.
  • When things are calm, sit down with your “bossy” child and coming up with a visual cue together that you can give them in the moment when they’re struggling with the behavior. Let them know that this is going to be your way of reminding them to stop and take a break, because they’re caught up in focusing on a sibling in a negative way.
  • It’s also very important to sit down individually with the other children involved so that they have a plan for how to deal with their “bossy” sibling. Make it clear that you expect everyone to be involved and work on what you’re coaching them on.
  • Look for those moments when your child has been successful and positive in their interactions with a sibling and make a big deal about it! When a parent can be specific with their child about what they saw and liked about an interaction, not only does it give tremendous encouragement, but it makes their child feel respected and loved.

So remember that the best way to help your child overcome the obstacle in this situation is to know what’s happening for them; it’s not enough to stop at the fact that they just like being bossy and enjoy getting on everyone’s nerves! You may feel that way from time to time, and that’s natural, but as James Lehman would say, “When a child acts out, they’re just trying to deal with their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions the best way they know how.”


As a 1-on-1 Coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

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  1. Marie McMullen Report

    I totally understand this and have been in this position . my daughter trys to be the parent at times because of situations and it comes from what she has experinced and poor choices i have made. all i can do is learn from them and be Consistent with my daughter and let my yes be yes and my no be no.

  2. than3 Report

    My oldest daughter has done this with her two younger siblings for as long as I can remember. In fact, I find my younger children responding more to her than me. When they are fighting, they will call out to her to solve problem. We can be out in public and she will say,”Mom, you shouldn’t let him do that” or “He has no mannners” etc. She is very negative and critical of her brothers, especially the youngest. No matter how many times I have spoken to her about this, she continues to parent her siblings. Some of the things that she gets on her brothers for are behaviors that she displayed when she was that age. I’ve pointed that out in the past, but she will negate it. I’m not sure what approach would be successful?

  3. khar59 Report

    Our ODD kid always takes his bad temper out on his twin sister or bosses her around when he is required to do a job that he’s not happy about. She sticks up for herself telling him to knock of the bossing and walks away. We have had to train her too!

    His elementary school redirected his need to control by rewarding him with working with younger grade children. They found he was good at getting them to follow rules and it channelled his needs in a positive way!

  4. therapistforchildren Report

    Another factor to consider is the home environment when siblings try to parent younger sibs. My experience has been that the home environment is chaotic with little structure, schedules or known chores, consequences or sharing of time, energy from the parents for whatever reason. It could be hectic work schedules, many children, multiple jobs, or other factors such as parent addictions to video games or substances or just emotional absence for the children. Sometimes we need to look even deeper to find out why children feel the need to control.



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