Setting Limits: When a Child is Bossy

  • Grades: Early Childhood, PreK–K, 1–2

Positive Role Models

When a child regularly takes on the role of a domineering parent, there's probably a reason for the behavior. It's possible that Tina believes that this is how adults are supposed to behave, perhaps because many of the adults in her life act this way.

You might try offering Tina alternative role models to base her play on. Share books with the group in which parents, grandparents, or teachers are gentle and allow children to express their own interests. Or you can take on the role of parent in the children's play and model a more sensitive approach.

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A domineering child can keep the rest of the children from expressing themselves. Here's how to help play become more collaborative.

Dear Stacey, I want to end the year on a high note with my class, but one child is making that somewhat of a challenge. Tina tends to be very bossy. She often takes over the other children's dramatic play, letting only certain children play with her and telling them what they have to pretend. (She's usually the mom and orders her kids around!) I was hoping her behavior would change now that we're outside a lot, but Tina simply organizes the same play outdoors - in the sandbox or around the climber. What can I do to end this behavior? - Tom

Dear Tom, It sounds like Tina is a leader in your class. She is forceful, assertive, and intimidating. She gives preferred treatment to certain children and organizes - and controls -- their play. While she may not be the most popular child in the class, the others are probably drawn to her. To top it off, she is so independent she doesn't seem to need you.

At this point in the year, the best approach to tempering Tina's bossiness is to focus on strengthening the other children's independence. Here are some ideas:

Assign leadership roles to the rest of the class. Develop rotating tasks, such as line leader or snack server, so all the children have a chance to lead the group. Play games, such as Simon Says or follow-the-leader, in which everyone takes turns guiding the class.

Join children's play. Participate in the children's dramatic play, for example, using your presence to ensure that the other children's voices are heard. When Tina assigns roles or dictates the theme of the play, ask the others if they have suggestions too.

Develop new themes for dramatic play. To break the cycle of Tina's always playing an authoritarian parent, try connecting dramatic play to other themes. If you're exploring food, for example, have children set up a restaurant and assign them roles.

Provide new activities and materials to explore. Offering a variety of interesting options will entice some of Tina's followers to try new things. Participate in these activities to make sure that Tina doesn't take over.

Have children choose activities. At the end of group time, let children know what the day's choices are for free play. Go around the circle, asking the children to choose the activity they want to participate in. This will ensure that everyone has a chance to express his or her preference.

  • Subjects:
    Early Learning, Cooperation and Teamwork, Bad Habits, Childhood Behaviors, Classroom Management, Manners and Conduct, Peer Pressure, Teacher Tips and Strategies
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