When Your Kids Try to Boss You Around

Why Your KIDS Try to BOSS You Around // jessconnell.com

Q: I am amazed by how I am noticing *already* eye rolling, sighing, attitude in general from my 5 and 3 year olds. We have zero tolerance at our house for disrespectful attitudes, and we also require obedience (“you obey Mommy the first time, with no sass.”). I am starting to notice especially with my oldest an attitude of entitlement (“Why didn’t you give me the pink plate? You know I like pink!”) or even thinking it’s okay to boss Mommy and Daddy around. Again, it’s not something we’ve ever tolerated, so I have no idea where it’s coming from.

I don’t know what else to do to squash the yucky attitudes I’m noticing. Is this an authority issue? Or is it just something that requires more heart training and consistency on my part?

Thank you so much for your insight! It is such a blessing to me, and my family.  :)

A: At these ages, you are still in the thick of reinforcing their understanding of your authority.

So in our home this is how that exchange would look:

  • Child: “Why didn’t you give me the pink plate? You know I like pink!”
  • Me: “You don’t talk to mama that way. Put your hands on the green one and say, ‘thank you mom for getting me a plate and making me lunch.’”
  • Child: “whine/whine/whine/fuss/fuss/maybe mumble something with a grumpy attitude.”
  • Me: “Nope. You were speaking perfectly loud before. You can do it now. Speak at a normal volume and say, “‘thank you mom for getting me a plate and making me lunch.’”
  • Child: may/may not say it the full way I want it said…
  • Me: … so I keep at it until they do. Even coaching their face and general demeanor. “Now, say it with a not-grumpy face.” (I might even show them- “this is how you look right now–” show them grumpy face & slumped posture… “but this is how I want you to look”, face tilted up, eyebrows relaxed, with an at-rest agreeable face– note: I don’t make them fake a smile, but I do want to teach them to be pleasant and polite.)

After they say it the right way — (i.e., “thank you mom for getting me a plate and making me lunch.” with a pleasant look on their face– not faking cheeriness but being polite and agreeable), I’ll say, “that’s great. Thanks for changing your attitude. Ready for lunch now?”

And we move on with the day with no grumping from me or them. Normal, pleasant interactions after that.

Until we hit the next “pink plate” incident. 😉

Discipline and training our kids is an ongoing process. They won’t get it right the first time, or maybe even completely get it right the fourth time, but over time, you will notice that they are growing to be pleasant, agreeable, winsome children (even when things don’t go their way) who ARE receiving your training and benefitting from it.

They aren’t going to stop being rude on their own, but with time, and with your help and consistent training, they can grow to be children who respect you and don’t treat you rudely.



Are You LETTING Your Kids Walk All Over You? // jessconnell.com


IN THE COMMENTS: What do you say & do when YOUR kids try to boss you around?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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11 Responses

  1. Diana says:

    This is what I do. Thanks for the reinforcement! My main problem is running up against my own anger. By the time I get through with a “pink plate” incident or two, I am so stressed out that I’m feeling ready to run out screaming. Or, more usually, my temper is more on edge so that I’m more likely to snap over something else that comes up subsequently. I guess that’s just something that’s going to take time to adjust to!!

    Thanks for your awesome blog – it’s always a source of encouragement and good reminders. Hope your husband is feeling better every day!!

  2. Beth says:

    Jess, I like what you’ve written. I’m feeling strongly the need to raise up children who are polite, respectful to authorities and others, and who can accept when things don’t go their way (and still be cheerful).

    But how, how, how do you train an older child in this way? My 10 year old was a very compliant, obedient small child, but now that she’s older (and hormones are starting to surge), if things don’t go her way, she gets positively stormy in her attitude. And the issues are not as simple as pink plates anymore.

    For example: today my children have a day off of school. She is spending the day with a friend, and tonight she and I will enjoy a mother/daughter date that includes dinner and shopping for much-needed clothes. Last night, in an effort to control/contain the inevitable chaos, I stated clearly that the plan for after supper was to tidy/clean the upstairs (which includes their bedrooms). And of course we always tidy the main floor as well. We all worked together, very pleasantly and energetically…until she decided she’d had enough, and started to complain that she felt like a “dog on a chain” and couldn’t do what SHE wanted to do. Her dad and I explained that since tomorrow was going to be a play day, we needed to finish our work today, and that if she could not join in, we would have to cancel her play date and shopping trip. She understood, but was clearly not happy about it.

    What could we have done differently? With 4 children ages 10, 6, 2.5 and 15 mo, the discipline and training (especially of the 10 year old, who has a propensity for argument and complaining and always seems to thinks she knows best) could seriously interfere with normal, everyday activities like supper, bedtimes, homework, etc. Am I looking at this the wrong way? Help!

    • Jess Connell says:

      The older the kids get, my direction for attitude change becomes less “directive”, and more like an invitation for them to work WITH us. Also, once a child claims to follow Christ, I urge them to identify with Christ in that moment and draw on the power of God’s Spirit alive in them to give them kindness, joy, self-control, etc…

      To flesh that out, with a child that has not yet made a decision to follow Christ, it would sound something like this:

      “Either way, with a grumpy attitude, or a willing attitude, you need to work alongside us and get this job done. But I would love for you to do it willingly. Mommy doesn’t love love LOVE cleaning house either but these are the things that need to be done as part of a family. I can’t MAKE you change your attitude, but I’d sure love to enjoy this work together. And God will always help you change your attitude if you ask Him. Now, please uncross your arms and come here by me. Let’s clear off this tabletop together.”

      As far as your last paragraph, YES, these things could definitely– and WILL definitely– interfere with normal everyday activities.

      Can I encourage you to flip this on its head? Can you see THESE THINGS– the attitude correction, the behavioral coaching, the parenting moments– as your “normal everyday activities” and let the other things be done AROUND this? I think it will make a huge difference in how you perceive how your days are going. THIS is why we are mothers. THIS is the stuff that matters MOST. So then if we eat frozen pizza for a night, rather than something home cooked, but we worked through big attitude issues and the 10 year old willingly did her chores and worked alongside us, that’s a WIN! Even if bedtime gets pushed back or things get swapped around.

      Because the attitude/mothering WORK is the real work of life.

      I do want to absolutely affirm what you’re saying: if you’re doing mothering right, it WILL overtake your life. This is why we are mothers. This is why God gives us these children. So that we can counsel them biblically, train them faithfully, observe their tendencies, and prepare them for life. This is why we have time. The other stuff is important, yes, but it comes AFTER attitude and behavioral stuff.

      The other stuff can be let go for a time, while this gets shored up, but if this gets lax and carelessly done, the other stuff won’t ultimately matter a hill of beans. Supper, bedtime, and homework are all important… but if they totally get messed up for a season, but you end up with a godly daughter who has a responsive attitude and a good relationship with you, wouldn’t that be worth it? Conversely, if you have a home that runs like clockwork and the homework gets done and she’s a straight-A student but she continues having this sulky, argue-back, entitled, irritable attitude toward you and your husband, will it be worth it?

      Keep going & don’t let her go now that she’s hitting “hormones.” You can still have a pleasant, enjoyable relationship, amidst work and conflicts, even with hormones. This is the real work of motherhood! Don’t lose heart!

      • Beth says:

        Jess, thanks for your response and encouragement. I’ve been mulling it over. :) Lately I’ve been convicted that my first priority, my first “job”, is my children, and that my housework is simply an interruption to that calling. With a husband who greatly values a clean and tidy and organized house and efficiency, it’s sometimes a balancing act between his desires and my calling to train our children. But I have to trust that the hours in a day are exactly what the Lord has given me to complete what He wants me to.

        • Jess Connell says:

          Do remember, as well, that those 10 & 6 year olds are plenty old enough to truly be helpers in those housekeeping efforts.

          In case they don’t currently do much- here’s a sampling of what those ages do in our home–

          * unloads dishwasher every time
          * helps set the table before meals
          * cleans up his own toy messes
          * helps with whole house tidies
          * vacuums the stairs once/week
          * tidies our back door/mud room area 2x/week

          9yo (nearly 10)-
          * starts laundry & moves it over to the dryer
          * keeps her own room tidy
          * helps when we do whole-house tidies
          * helps me with organizing projects (pantry clean-out, keeping the nursery tidy)

          A saying among those missionaries who work with indigenous peoples is “the resources are in the harvest”– meaning, (long-term) don’t “bring in” deacons and elders from another city… don’t “bring in” teachers from other places. God has provided the resources you need to grow there in the harvest He gives. I have come to see the same be true of children. Yes, there’s a season when they’re all little when you might need to make shift in challenging ways… but once even the oldest passes 6/7 years old, they are big enough to start contributing and taking care of the messes they help make.

          Let your training of your children include training them to help with the desires your husband has– keeping the house up! :) It’s a work in progress here too, but they can do it, and we can too!

          • Beth says:

            Oh yes, they are superb helpers! In fact, the lists of chores they are responsible for looks very similar to your lists. :) My 10 year old is especially fond of organizing, so when she wants to earn a little spending money, I make a list of the untidy spots around the house and she cheerfully works away at them. This is over and above her usual responsibilities. I am very thankful for my helpful girls! I was not raised to keep house, so it’s especially important to me that they learn these things now. This summer, my 10 year old and I will be spending quality time together in the kitchen preparing meals; she will learn some cooking skills and we’ll be able to spend time together.

          • Jess Connell says:

            Great! I am quick to mention it because I waited too long to get my children going on regular, daily chores. Definitely want to help other moms not make my same mistake!

  3. Allison says:

    I have been so encouraged to press on — and press on more faithfully — both by your original article AND by the comments section. I’m glad I’m not the only mother working through this and seeking to raise godly children. We are dealing with this sort of thing with our two older boys (ages 7 and 5), and particularly with our oldest. We are often having him “try again,” until he responds with a good attitude, but often I think I am guilty about not taking it seriously enough. My husband, however, is much quicker to spot a sassy attitude than I am, and now that he’s been calling our son out on it, I’m learning to train my ear to pick up on it too. He seems to be pretty good about being the “model child,” at school, but the fact that he is willing to be disrespectful to us at home reveals what’s really in his heart. He tells us he isn’t sure how not to be disrespectful, and it’s led to some discussion about how his responses are disrespectful because that’s what’s in his heart and so it’s coming out in his responses. It’s one more opportunity to point out sin in his life, and his desperate need to look to Christ and what he has done on the cross and walk in repentance and faith. Thank you for the encouragement to press on (and be even more faithful than I’ve tended to be)!

    • Allison says:

      And just to clarify, I’m not talking about a parenting style that looks at my son and says, “Shame on you! Don’t you EVER talk to me like that!!!!!” I’m talking about a parenting style that says, “You know what, you really DON’T know how not to be disrespectful because you can’t do it on your own. You need Jesus but he taken the penalty of the wrath of God on YOUR behalf for just such sin as this, and if you are willing to look to HIM instead of looking at yourself and trust in what HE has done and walk in repentance from sin and faith in him, then HE will help you. ” It’s certainly calling him out on sin, but calling him out to hope in Christ instead. And no, I don’t do it perfectly, but that’s what, by God’s grace, I’m striving to do more.

    • Jess Connell says:

      I’m so glad, Allison! Glad to be an encouragement to you.

      And I loved the fleshing out of “disrespect” in your comment– it takes work on all our parts to see things rightly.

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