The Child that is Bossy to their Nanny

Teaching Children to Speak Respectfully

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” — James Baldwin
Last Sunday we began the discussion about teaching children to respect themselves and others, (click here to see that post).

One of the nannies we spoke to was Ariel T., a nanny working in Charleston, SC. Ariel admits the boy she cares for often speaks to her disrespectfully. Ariel says, “The eight-year old boy I care for barks orders at me. His parents speak to me kindly when asking me to do things. But, I feel like the eight-year-old orders me around.”

Ariel understands that speaking respectfully to others is an important life skill. “My charge won’t be able to speak to a boss that way when he gets older, or he’ll be fired,” says Ariel.

Looking at the developmental stages of learning respect listed by Denise Chapman Weston and Mark S. Weston, (click here to see the chart), Ariel’s charge is in late childhood and at the perfect age to learn important social skills, such as speaking appropriately to others. The developmental chart explains that during this developmental stage you should not expect the child to pay attention to these issues if the topic is not brought to his attention. Plus, he should not be expected to learn to speak respectfully towards others if those actions are not modeled by his caregivers.

Most likely, the eight-year-old boy is mirroring what he is hearing and saying. Children simply mimic what they hear.

Are you or the parents barking orders at the child? Is he viewing movies and television programs, playing video games, or listening to music that casually introduces unacceptable language or a disrespectful tone into their vocabulary? Even in his classroom, sports teams, and summer or after school activities, are there children who use backtalk against teachers, coaches, and classmates? If he is seeing this style of communication, then he has come to believe that this is okay, even normal.

Stovie Jungreis-Wolff explains that to teach children better ways to communicate you must first be involved in what the children hear and see. Then he recommends you listen to how you speak to children.

He explains that too often, caregivers take a laissez faire attitude and allow children to set their own standards. Kids are deciding which television shows and movies they watch, surfing the web unmonitored, and programing their ipods as they wish. Caregivers must see what the children see, hear what they are listening to; and if you don’t approve you cannot be afraid to say ‘No’.

Pam Leo of Connection Parenting (™) says in her article Teaching Children Respect, “Children are mirrors; they reflect back to us everything we say and do. We now know that 95% of everything children learn, they learn from what is modeled for them. Only 5% of all they learn is from direct instruction.”

Ms. Leo says, “Human beings are like tape recorders. Every word we hear, everything we experience, is permanently recorded in our subconscious. Whenever adults speak, we are being role models for the children in our presence. What we speak is what we teach. Children record every word we ever say to them or in front of them. The language children grow up hearing is the language they will speak.”

She continues, “The most common criticism I hear of young people these days is, ‘they don’t treat anyone or anything with respect.’ Ironically, adults often try to teach children to be respectful by treating them disrespectfully. Children learn respect or disrespect from how we treat them and how we treat each other. When children live with disrespect, they learn disrespect. We can teach respect only by modeling treating each other with respect and by giving children the same respect we expect.”

So, if you are in a situation like Ariel, remember that children pick up your language, your attitude, and your tone. If you desire children who speak respectfully, who are kind with their words, then you must first speak respectfully yourself.

Do you have issues with how the children speak to you? Share your story (without stating the family’s name to respect their privacy) by clicking “comments” below.


  1. This is my biggest pet-peeve, kids bossing me around. I am an adult, they are children and they tell me what to do?I am ashamed now after reading this though. I do model the parents and the parents do "bark orders" at the kids and now I do too.It is so hard when kids are misbehaving to get them to listen and I do raise my voice and order them around. They do order me around. They used to say please and thank you and now all their good manners seem to have disappeared.I am thankful to read this and remind myself what I used to know. Thank you!!

  2. I definitely agree that children imitate behaviors that are modeled for them. But I also think there is an issue of expectation as well, which some parents may overlook. Children can be demanding by nature as toddlers. Adults need to begin teaching them while they are young that this not the appropriate way to get what they want and see that this kind of behavior is not rewarded. But there are many parents, who would never use such a demanding manner with their childre or other adults, yet accept this behavior in their child.It is hard for some parents to discipline a child and they try to avoid conflict with the child. But this child will learn that he can do whatever he wants with no consequence. I think that it is not only by one's own behavior that affects these children, but also by the expectations that are set for the child's behavior and how high the bar is set in terms of being courteous to others.

  3. This is a big issue for me lately with one of the boys I care for. I definitely do not think I yell but I know he is acting bossy because his mom is very demanding and bossy.His bossiness effects the way he speaks to his siblings, friends and me. It is drivning me up the wall.Problem is that the lovely mother has no idea this is what is happening. Innocently enough, when the kids misbehave she has no room for tolerance. Very strict. I like the strict rules better than children without limits but he is very rude and I can see clearly where the boy is getting it from.The dad sees it too and has discussed it with the mother but she really doesn't realize that's what is happening. She is a nice lady that loves her kids, no doubt. But perhaps she learned no other way and is just doing what she was taught.So, despite my understanding what you have discussed here on the blog, I don't think I can bring it up with the mother or it will sound disrespectful.Tonya, Orange County CA

  4. Role play appropriate ways to talk to people. Kids learn thru play. It is easier to discuss proper tone when everyone is in a good mood and not in the "heat of the moment." Nanny and Household Manager Fran Providence Rhode Island

  5. I am not a nanny, but I work in a situation where the boss's 4-year-old granddaughter comes to the office in the afternoon. I have only been at this job for a little over two months. Sometimes our boss can be sarcastic to us, and the child is picking up this behavior.This child, while she is cute and smart, can also be mouthy, saying things such as "I don't like you!", or "Don't talk to me" or "Don't smile at me!".She is not my child, so I have no authority over her.She is better behaved when her mother is around.When her grandmother tries to talk to her about it, the child will tell her that she doesn't like me.How do I cope without leaving this job?Thank you so much.

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