It’s so common to see little three and four-year-olds telling their peers and adults what to do with such ferocity you wonder where that gumption came from. It stops being cute when they keep demanding their way and you find yourself helpless to curb their appetites for getting what they want from others all the time. They expect their peers to play what they choose, follow their rules for as long as they want until they change the rules to suit them or change the game.
Given they’re only three or four, maybe there’s something positive going on that you don’t want to shake or curb too quickly. Maybe these are future organizers, leaders, captains, and go-getters who will do good for the world. How do you know the difference between bosses and leaders? By ages five and six, you can tell the difference. These are ages when developmentally empathy should be coming into play.
Ten Ways to Separate Out Little Bosses from Prospective Leaders
- The leaders learn limits. After a while they let someone else choose the game or at least compromise and take turns.
- The leaders by age four have some regard for others’ feelings. They stop demanding their way if they see someone is upset by this.
- The leaders develop some restraint. They suppress their wishes to control everyone and demonstrate sensitivity and understanding of others’ wishes.
- The leaders are honest about what they want without trying to fool others by changing the rules just to get what they want or to win unfairly.
- The leaders know how to be cheerful when they don’t get their way.
- The leaders know when to stop and listen to someone else.
- The leaders don’t take advantage of the shy, more reticent children.
- The leaders are enthusiastic and sociable but make friends with those who are more passive as well.
- The leaders become less demanding of others while staying demanding of themselves. They are hardworking and persistent.
- The leaders may be outspoken but don’t hurt people in the process.
- The leaders slowly begin to think before they act.
- The leaders like being the center of attention but not at the expense of others.
- The leaders start to realize others have good ideas, too.
- The leaders use their gusto for accomplishing goals.
- The leaders may be dominating but know how to be likeable.
So if your preschooler bosses his friends, later you may ask if he thought about how some of the other kids were feeling when he got his way all afternoon. This may be a new notion and he may not be capable of answering right away but you’re steering him, not shutting him down. You’re guiding him, not punishing away what may become a source of later accomplishment.