Jared has been with us for several years, starting two mornings a week in the toddler group. Now he's a fulltime "senior" in the fours. Jared knows his way around. I'm pleased that he's proud of his accomplishments and that he feels so comfortable here. Now that it's the end of the year, he can write his own name, and today he let everyone know that he can write his sister Jill's name too. Jared created a collage for Jill and made sure the children around him watched him cutting in a straight line. "See, I can draw straight too, and look how I can draw a picture of a little kid like Jill."
He's getting more and more adept at fine-motor skills-and large-motor skills too. He pedals around on a tricycle and boasts that soon he's getting the training wheels off his two-wheeler. I'm aware of how great it is that Jared's self-esteem is growing along with his competence, but I wonder about the bragging. Whatever he's building or creating, he makes a point of pronouncing it "the best" or better than another child's, backing up his claims with lawyer-like logic. The other day, he had a different idea from mine about which projects were ready to be taken home. He blurted out, "I don't have to do what you say."
How can I help Jared to cooperate without taking anything away from the pleasure he gets from his accomplishments?
THE PARENT'S STORY
Our 4 1/2-year-old is a "young man in a hurry" now that he has mastered so many new skills. Just this morning, Jared proudly zipped his own jacket, remarking that his 2-year-old sister can't figure out which arm goes in which sleeve. He's patient with Jill but enjoys emphasizing his "superior abilities." At breakfast, he poured milk for himself and then some in a sippy cup for his sister. "Jill can't do this stuff herself," he explained. "But I can." I must admit that it's exciting to see how competent our little boy has become-bounding up and down stairs with one foot on each step or zooming around on his training wheels and pleading to have them removed.
Jared exudes confidence. But the downside is that he doesn't want to listen to us anymore. He doesn't even like us to show him how to use things like a new CD-Rom. "I can do it myself," he shouts. "You don't have to keep telling me." He protests about going to bed or into the bath and then about getting out of the bath. I've also noticed that when he's with friends, he does an awful lot of bragging. "My baby sister is cuter than yours," I overheard him say to Kevin, who visited last weekend.
Does every child who takes a leap in learning become bossy and boastful? What can we do to help Jared understand why he should still follow the rules? It's more important than ever, now that he'll be going to kindergarten in the fall.
Dr. Brodkin's Assesment
Say hello to "fourness" in all its exuberant, bossy splendor-which Jared's behavior typifies. His expansiveness and braggadocio are quite typical of children this age who are developing wonderfully well in all spheres-and know it. Then, too, this much self-confidence may be exaggerated by a need to cope with competitive feelings about his "baby sister."
Of course, that doesn't mean the adults don't owe him some guidance about the importance of respecting others. But it does mean we shouldn't be alarmed if he doesn't fall in line perfectly just yet.
What the Teacher Can Do
Some might wonder whether the teacher's high praise of Jared could make things worse. That is not the case. In fact, one fairly sure remedy for perpetual self-praise is "getting there" before the child. So if the teacher (and the parents) are quick to applaud each new accomplishment of Jared's, there'll be less incentive for him to posture and brag. His recent spurt of skills growth offers many opportunities for the adults to give such positive reward. And he needs this to feel that, despite the competition, he has a special role at school and at home.
Remember, too, that although it might be unsettling, Jared's lawyer-like behavior is not all bad, for it allows him practice in logical and critical thinking. Of course, this teacher, as well as the next, does have every right to expect good manners, kindness, and respect for others. But breaches should be gently noted. Jared, like many other 4 1/2-year-olds, needs to be reminded that everyone makes important contributions. He will get the message about what is expected in school. He'll know what he needs to work on, and he's just determined enough to follow through.
What the Parent Can Do
Bright, sensitive, older siblings such as Jared often need reassurance about their parents' admiration. I would encourage his parents to take advantage of his confidence to matter-of-factly explore new skills and ideas with him, offering all sorts of information in everyday conversation.
There are times for the parents to invoke their authority too. When Jared's in a big hurry to dig into that new CD-Rom, slow him down by referring to the accompanying directions: "It says parents and kids are supposed to start out doing it together." Calmness, consistency, and firmness about a few family rules will pay off. While confining bike riding to safe areas is not negotiable, the removal of Jared's training wheels soon may be. Remember, he's also convincing himself that being the bigger child has advantages.
Summer is a good time to start. Jared will test die waters, but time and the developmental process are on his parents' side. Jared is more likely to conform as he approaches age 5. And the new world of kindergarten may divert him from concern about the presence of that cute competitor