Father: “In our family we sometimes talk about ‘playing the boss’. When my children aged 4 and 6 play together, it is often about who sets the rules. They are both exploring their assertiveness and autonomy, which I like to see.

“But it also sometimes creates a difficult situation. The youngest, for instance, was lingering terribly lately, and I urged her to hurry. To get to school on time, I said, “Since you can’t tell the time yet, I’ll do it for you.” Then she asked, “Do you think you’re more important than me?” Although I got her delivered to school on time, the question haunted me for a long time. What could you tell a child about that?”

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Point out your role

Bass Delivery: “This is a manifestation of an independence claim that belongs to this age. Four-year-olds sometimes say it literally: ‘I decide for myself!’ We appreciate that obtrusive ‘I’ and ‘self’, because in the end education is all about personal responsibility.

“The child’s question offers a great opportunity to explain that parents do all kinds of things for children as long as they can’t do it themselves. Parents may ask children to take that role into account, and in general children are happy to do so. Parenting can only succeed if children can identify with the role of the educator, if they understand what you are doing, that you are doing it for them.

“You also have to prepare well for going to school. Children of 4 can’t switch quickly yet. They can’t stop on demand yet what they’re busy doing. Even if you want to have them at the table, you must announce this at least fifteen minutes in advance. So take your time in the morning as well.

“I wonder, by the way, if your daughter already knows what she’s asking, and hasn’t just picked up the phrase from an adult mouth. But that you can tell the time and they can’t, is a really good answer.”

Talk about authority

Stijn Sieckelinck: “These are the gifts that children can give that give us the opportunity to talk to them from an early age about crucial issues: which voices in human life carry the most weight and why? Talking about this is part of a democratic society.

“At the moment you can suffice with: ‘I wouldn’t be a good daddy if I didn’t get you to school on time, so I have to tell the time for you.’ When the time pressure is off, you can tell what a boss really is. A boss is not someone who overrules others, a boss is not a bully, a boss helps others do what they want and need to do. A real boss asks: ‘what do you need, and what can I expect from you? A boss is not more important, but does have a different role. This creates a different version of the boss that she gets to know in the schoolyard, where the law of the strongest applies and bossiness is the norm.

“It is very healthy if a child wants to examine who sets the rules, and what rationality is behind them. Asks the question: where does the legitimacy to make decisions come from? These kinds of questions also keep us on our toes as educators, because they invite you in a stimulating way to examine your own parenting style.”

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