My five-year-old daughter is too bossy with her friends

Parent Question:
My five-year-old daughter can be really bossy with her friends. When they come over on a play date, she tries to organise everything, choose all the games and tell them what to do all the time. I sometimes see the other children bristling in response to her and I am worried that she will put them off as friends. She does the same in most social situations with other children.

When we are out as a family I see her bossing cousins and friends’ children and especially those younger than her. She has a younger cousin who is very quiet and who goes along with her bossiness and lets her decide everything. I don’t think this is a good thing and I worry that her mum (my brother’s wife) thinks my daughter is dominating her.

When I try to intervene or tell my daughter not to be bossy she does not respond well, and she can become sulky and moody. What can I do to help her?

Lots of children have naturally outgoing and socially confident personalities, which means they will take the lead socially and come up with ideas for play with their peers. While this can be a great strength and helpful in social groups, like most personality traits it can become a problem if exaggerated or rigid. As you have observed, too much confidence can come across as being bossy or overbearing and put other children off, and there could be tendency to dominate a quieter child.

In supporting your daughter, it is important not to come across as critical towards her and to primarily see her confident personality as a strength that you appreciate about her. Then you can think about how you can support her in social interactions and help her learn and slightly adjust how she relates so things go better for her and the other children.

Reflect on the source of your own feelings
Parents often have strong reactions to their children’s behaviour that comes from their own experiences. For example, were you a quiet or bossy child growing up? Were you like your daughter or different? What were your experiences like at her age? Taking time to reflect like this will help you understand where your feelings are coming from. For example, it could be that your daughter’s behaviour is pretty normal but it reminds you of struggles in your own childhood. It can help to take time to talk this through with a partner, friend or family member. Your daughter’s other parent might have a different understanding and response to what is going on, and this is worth taking into account.

Helping your daughter be more co-operative in play
Primarily focus on encouraging the strengths and positives of your daughter’s personality. For example, you might say: “It is great the way you want to get games going with your friend”, or “I like the way you have lots of ideas for play”. Then gently offer positive suggestions and guidance if you think they are necessary – “Let’s ask N first what she wants to play” or “let’s take turns deciding the games”. You can also ask your daughter to think through and problem-solve what is happening. You could say “I think N felt left out of the game. Did you notice? How could we include her next time?

In shaping your daughter’s behaviour, the goal is to make sure your approach is primarily positive. You should try to offer at least five encouragements to every single criticism or suggestion. This way you can preserve your daughter’s self-esteem and she is much more likely to listen to you.

Prepare your daughter in advance
If you are worried about how a social situation might go, it is a good idea to coach her in advance and to set her up for success. For example, if she is meeting her cousin, you might discuss the games they might play and how they might take turns. You could also rehearse how she might ask her cousin for ideas about games and how she can listen to her choices. There are also lots of good children’s story books that discuss social skills and taking turns that you could read with your daughter as part of your daily routine.

In addition, when the two girls are together you could sit with them and model turn-taking during a game. “Now it is N’s turn. Let’s wait to see how she gets on. Well done, N.” With a little bit of support and scaffolding your daughter can see the benefit of more co-operative play. You can also reinforce this when you talk later – “That was great the way you played with N; it was great the way you got her involved in the game.

Correct your daughter in private
If you do need to correct your daughter, this is usually best done in private. Correcting a child in front of other children and adults can be experienced as undermining and lead to defensiveness and hurt. Instead if you spot your daughter getting into trouble with another child, you can either address them together – “Let’s all take turns now” or you can call your daughter aside to talk to her individually – “Maybe it’s time to let N choose now”. This way she is more likely to listen to you and less likely to feel defensive.

Finally, your daughter is very young, and it is developmentally normal at her age to be a bit “bossy” and to not yet know how to include others equally. Be very patient, enjoy her confident personality and encourage her strengths. Then she is likely to make the progress she needs in her own time.

John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the School of Psychology, University College Dublin. This parenting Q&A was originally published in the Irish Times in May 2023. John writes in the Irish Times Newspaper on Tuesdays. His website is