How to Handle Your Demanding Preschooler

Got a little dictator? Learn how to redirect her demands in a positive way. These four scenarios will help you manage her directives.

My 4-year-old son, Mason, is bright, funny, and sweet. He's also bossy. At least his behavior is par for the preschool years. "Three- and 4-year-olds start trying to show their independence and act grown up, so they imitate the adults in their life -- although not always in a good way," explains Jennifer Shu, M.D., a Parents advisor and Atlanta-based pediatrician. When they get older, Dr. Shu says, they'll grow less pushy. In the meantime, try these ideas to manage your preschooler's marching orders.

He's a Critic About What You Wear

Four-year-old Sal Discioarro has serious opinions about how his family looks. "If I put my hair in a ponytail or a bun, he'll tell me, 'Put your hair down,' " says his mom, Kerry, of Long Island City, New York. "He has even told me to wear a princess dress."What It Means: It may be a sign that you're not allowing him to make enough decisions on his own, says Amy McCready, author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time.Fix It: Explain that it's up to you how you dress or style your hair. Let him pick out what he wants to wear or decide between cereal and yogurt for breakfast, says McCready.

She Wants to Control How Her Siblings Play

Kate Metz, of Harrison, Ohio, gets upset when her younger brother won't play a game following her rules. The 4-year-old told her mom, Emily, "I've had just about enough of his attitude today!"What It Means: She may want to get her own way, or it's possible that she's jealous of attention that her younger sibling receives, says McCready.Fix It: Defuse the situation by saying, "Your brother might not want to play that game right now. Why don't you try playing something else?" she suggests. And to minimize sibling competition, try giving her a little extra TLC by playing with her one-on-one every day, even if it's just for 15 minutes.

He Wants You to Do Things He Can Do Himself

Every day, after preschool, my son demands a juice box. Mason could easily get the juice from the bottom shelf of our fridge without any help.What It Means: He may just be worn out from a long day at school. Or he may get a thrill from getting you to jump through hoops, says McCready. "When children feign helplessness, they often get a sense of power from how their parents react," she explains.Fix It: Tell him, 'I'll get it this time; you get it next time,' " suggests Dr. Shu. Follow-through is key, she explains, so if he balks at getting his own drink tomorrow, remind him that it's his turn to get it for himself.

She Bosses Fellow Students

"My daughter, Lucy, 4, wants to be like the teacher and tell classmates what to do," says Christy Ehlert-Wagner, of Cookeville, Tennessee. "If it were up to her, she'd run the classroom." What It Means: She may be a motivated kid who wants to help the teacher maintain order -- and she may need more opportunities to contribute in class in meaningful ways.Fix It: Harness her zeal by asking her preschool teacher to consider giving her some small jobs. For instance, Lucy could fold mats after naptime or squirt soap in her classmates' hands when it's time to wash up.

Originally published in the December 2014 issue of Parents magazine.

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