Don’t Be Bossy When Playing With Your Child

Parents need to play with their kids – but they shouldn’t be too bossy when doing so. Such is the conclusion of a new report published in Parenting: Science and Practice

This study videotaped mom/kid dyads while they were playing, and coded the mom’s “directiveness” – the use of commands, requests, or more simply, telling a kid what to do. They also examined how kids react to directiveness, in terms of negative behavior and their level of engagement with their mom. This method was used over time, going from age 1 through age 5.

The results were clear-cut: the more bossy a mom is, the more negative a kid becomes, and the less engaged in play. This is especially the case if the mom is also negative (facial expression, tone of voice) – it comes across as critical and inhibits, rather than inspires, kids’ play.

So what is the optimal way to play with your child? Let them take the lead. Let them follow their imagination. Build on what they do. Don’t feel the need to tell them that there is a “right” way to play with a toy or where their play stories should go. Replace “How about doing this?” with doing what they are saying. Go with their flow! Of course, if they need help with something, or they do something that could be dangerous, you step in. But overall, they are the boss of their play – and you should be a willing and fun participant.

There is a bigger take-home message here. For some parents, negative emotions creep into every aspect of a child’s life – including play. Some parents can fall into the trap of being controlling and critical, even during playtime. This can have a very strong impact on kids by undermining their self-esteem, and inhibiting what should be their creative time. It can also form the roots of depression in a kid. You may think you are doing your job by telling your child what to do – but if this is happening during play, you are letting the air out of their balloon. Conversely, by letting your kid take the lead, you will find yourself caught up in their joy and re-experience why play is such a magical part of a young kid’s life.

Mom and Child Playing via


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