Dear Dr. Debbie,
As soon as our daughter could talk she would boss other children around. She’s 3 ½ now and I’m getting concerned that other children won’t want to play with her. So far, she spends her time closely supervised by me, her dad, and her teachers at preschool. I often have to help her rephrase things to other children or redirect her to make their interactions fair. For example, if she announces she’s the captain of the ship, and another child seems disappointed or angered by this announcement, I suggest they could be co-captains.
Most of the time she’s willing to bend to my guidance, but her inclination to boss others around won’t always be so closely monitored as she gets older. Also, she’s going to be an only child so won’t ever have siblings to practice negotiation skills with. How can she learn to treat others less like a dictator and more like a respected equal?
Helicoptering but Don’t Want to
Don’t miss last week’s column Can a Child’s IQ be raised? — Good Parenting
With her “take charge” personality, your daughter could be a natural leader. At her age, however, it isn’t so easy to take the perspective of another child, so your close guidance is appropriate.
Social skills are honed when a child can spend lots of time with one or a few steady playmates. This allows for personalities, preferences, and play styles to become learned by one another. Support your daughter’s friendships from school with playdates at each other’s homes so the children can get better and better at the give and take that makes their time together mutually enjoyable.
As the years go by be sure to support old friendships, especially if the children end up going to different schools later on. A long-lasting friendship has many benefits, one of which is that a true friend has your best interest at heart. She’ll criticize and advise you if you’re not treating someone fairly.
Assuming your daughter will always feel strongly that her ideas are the best ideas, you can help her learn how to weigh a decision so that her ideas are truly good. Share your own decision-making with her, for example, how you carry out planning a meal. In addition to assessing what ingredients are on hand, you also consider having all your food groups covered as well as creating a meal that will be enjoyed by everyone who will be eating it. This process helps her to evaluate how a decision can’t be judged in isolation, but rather in consideration of everyone who might be affected by it.
It is important that a strong-willed child learn how to resolve conflict. Her own position in any conflict will sound to her like the obvious choice. Practice consistent, and fair, solutions when she and a playmate have different ideas about how things should go, as in your example about sharing the role of co-captains. Divide space and materials in half. Find a similar object so both children can each have one. Teach her how trading works – offer something of equal or greater value to get what another child has. Take turns using a timer. Meld two ideas into one idea that is acceptable to both children. And when emotions threaten to take over her ability to apply good reasoning, it’s time for a short break or a change of activity.
The more we adults model and guide children’s social skills, using the ideals of fairness and mutual respect, the quicker they can catch on to using them.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.