As a 4-year-old accomplishes more and more, his growing confidence may sound like bragging. What's the best way to help him soften his social approach?
The Teacher's Story

Jared has been with us for several years. He started two mornings a week in the toddler group, and 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. 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 is getting more and more adept at small-motor tasks - and large-motor tasks too. He pedals assuredly around on a tricycle and boasts that soon he's getting the training wheels off his two-wheeler. And I suppose we could say he's reading, since he recognizes a number of the other children's printed names. (You can be sure he lets them know that too.) I'm aware of how good it is that Jared's selfesteem 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 lawyerlike logic. And then, 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."

I hope he won't speak that way to the kindergarten teacher next fall. How can I help Jared to cooperate without minimizing the pleasure he derives 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 sippycup 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 CDROM. "I can do it myself," Jared admonishes. "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. What's more, I've 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 Timmy, who visited last weekend.

Does every child who takes a leap in all kinds of 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's going to kindergarten.

Dr. Brodkin's Assessment

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.

Of course, that doesn't mean we don't owe children some valuable guidance about the importance of respecting others. But it does mean we shouldn't be alarmed if they don'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, including some he didn't even recognize, 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.

Remember, too,. that although it might be unsettling, Jared's lawyerlike behavior allows him practice in logical and critical thinking. Of course, this teacher, as well as the next, does have every right to expect mannerliness, kindness, and respect for others. But breeches should be gently noted. Both individually and in the group, Jared and the other 4 1/2-year-olds need to be reminded that everyone makes equally important contributions.

The teacher might not see instantaneous mellowing, but Jared 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

There's no need to worry that Jared is destined to become one of those boring braggarts whom everyone avoids at parties. Bright fours like Jared do begin to sow their oats, though. 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, 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, as long as the list isn't unduly long and includes lots of positives. While confining bike-riding to safe areas is not negotiable, the removal of Jared's training wheels soon may be.

Summer is a good time to start. Spunky Jared will test the 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.