Bossy Preschooler - Suggestions? Help!

My 4.5-yr-old son is a bossy kid.

Of course I have NO idea where he gets it <----- note sarcasm borne of seeing my own very painful memories replayed in the backyard.

As I watch my son struggle with group play, I see that he’s on a slightly different page from the rest of the kids. He’s observing and reacting to a sense of structure that’s not readily apparent to them, and he can’t figure out why it’s not bringing him victory. He desperately wants to win.

And worse, his usually easygoing twin sister (who’s had about enough of his bossiness) has started pairing up with her little neighbor girlfriend to exclude him from their play. I don’t blame her in a sense, but those two sweet, cute, adorable little girls can be very mean. They make him cry.

Unfortunately there isn’t a 5-yr-old neighbor boy at the ready. I can arrange playdates sometimes, but it’s not spontaneous and frequent the way our neighbors are. And sometimes the boy playdates backfire on me - they’d rather play with my daughter, she’s easier to get along with.

My son doesn’t play well on his own. In fact he never plays alone - he’s a really social child, has been since toddlerhood. He relies on his sister.

Any suggestions?

Get him to enlist?


I think he’ll grow out of it. My own almost-4 is a supreme dictator; we in the family are his staff. However, he is now being told to do more things on his own as he become capable of it (clearing his own dish from the table, throwing away his own trash) and being told, repeatedly, to speak nicely and politely. Have you tried modeling correct speech and behavior for him, offering alternative ways to handle the situation, that sort of thing? I assume you’ve also told him that unless he plays nice, Sister and Friend aren’t going to play with him.

Also, I’m not sure about what you mean by wanting to win. Is he turning all play into competition?

This sounds very similar to my son. I have watched him annoy the hell out of his playmates going over the rules of whatever they are supposed to be playing and bossing them around because they are not doing it the way he thinks is right.

I would keep scheduling playdates. Sure they are not as spontaneous as neighborhood play but he will have a better shot at the more spontaneous group activities if he’s more used to “going along and getting along” which he’ll need practice for, and that’s where the scheduled play dates come in.

Some of my oldest’s early play dates were absolute disasters but we kept doing it. It will eventually get better. If nothing else the peer pressure will clue him in that bossy = no one wants to be your friend so you better tone it down. I know that sounds harsh and I’m not advocating throwing him to the wolves but it’s better to work on it now than that first day of first grade or older when the kids’ claws can really start to come out.

Some kids need practice playing with others and learning how to lose more than others kids.

ETA - **EllenCherry ** - I’m glad you said that because my younger son is almost 4 and some days I wonder if I should get myself a butler uniform as he dictates to me what he wants. At least it’s not just me. My standard response has become - do we get what we want by not asking nicely?

The politeness thing is sort of a separate issue - and I agree, we expect civility and respect. Some days we get it ;).

It’s more that he’s not meshing with the group, not doing enough following, not picking up on cues.

Re: the competitiveness, that’s a constant - “Whoever gets to their tricycle faster wins.” The twins do it constantly, especially him.

But I agree, we’ll keep trying.

I just find myself at a loss when everyone else is playing fine and he’s having a fit, or off to the side crying. I don’t think he understands what he’s doing “wrong”.

Mm. He’s still very young, and I’m no professional, so take this post with a heaping pile of salt.

My roommate is diagnosed with Asperger’s (and this is about as solid and clinical a diagnosis as you’re able to get, before people start griping about Disorder Of The Week), and has the same problems fitting in with a group. Everyone else is able to get along with each other fine, but for one reason or another she can’t participate in the give and take that keeps social interaction smooth, which usually ends with everyone trying to ignore her and do their own thing while she falls apart and recomposes herself in the background. It’s usually caused by the same issues, too; the other folks are doing some activity wrong and she’s unable to simply let it go, creating conflict where most people wouldn’t even notice a problem. It’s difficult, because it seems to be a base problem with how her brain’s wired and she can’t simply adjust to cope.

I’m not saying your boy is an Aspie, as I’m pretty sure behavior in an adult can’t necessarily translate to behavior in a child and vice versa, but it may be something to keep in the back of your mind. Take other posters’ advice first, but if it stops looking like a phase, you may want to have a professional talk to him once he’s a bit older.

Mine is always wanting to “beat” us at everything, though running in the house is of course discouraged.

I am not a child-development expert by any means, but it seems that your son probably just needs to learn this skill through regular interaction with other kids. Too much adult-directed play is detrimental, I think we’d all agree. It is hard not to help them “play right,” though, I agree.

Maybe a stupid question, but have you tried explaining it to him? That its okay to ride your tricycle without there being “winners” and “losers”? That there isn’t one “right” way to do most things? That sharing opinions is like sharing toys - its no fun when one person hogs them all?

I was definitely bossy and methodical as a younger child, as well as extremely literal.* I am still all these things to this day but in a way which is more socially acceptable, if you know what I mean. At some point, I just learned to tone it down I guess. But, for example, I was at least in High School before I “got” on a really fundamental level that rhetorical questions can be a form of humor. I understood it intellectually before that but it bothered me when someone would ask a question as if the answer was an unknowable mystery when there was actually a simple explanation.
*example: I knew that Louis Pasteur invented the process known as “Pasteurization” so one day, looking at a carton of milk, I asked my mom who “Mr. Homogen” was and what HE invented.