My nephew is 7 years old and is use to leading the games and make believe we play. He often decides what games we should play and exactly how he wants to play it, down to telling me what I should say and how I should act when were playing together. His 4 year old sister is quite complacent and generally goes along with playing the games the way her brother wants to, more then most siblings would.

He doesn't get too mad if someone doesn't want to play the game he wants, he is worst at taking turns at playing games other's want then the 'average' kid, but not terrible so. The problem isn't that he wants to pick the 'game' to play, the problem is that when we are playing something he wants to play he wants to dictate exactly how the game should be done, and doesn't like if someone deviates from his script. When I was playing along with what he wanted to do he has told me no I didn't say it quite the way he wanted me to say it and that we should try it again.

When he is with other kids his age he doesn't seem to get that those kids may not want to play things exactly the way he wants to play. The kids playing with him often ignore his dictates on exactly how they should play, and while he doesn't necessarily get angry at them for that he just keeps repeating himself and trying to help them 'understand' how they should play rather then trying to cooperate to find a way they can play together. This has lead to bait of parallel play where both kids are playing something, but not really playing together with each other because the other kids are no longer willing to follow his dictates and my nephew is still trying to structure the play exactly the way he envisions it. Sometimes he will simply wonder off and play by himself if he can't get the other kids to join in with his idea of the game also, but he still isn't learning how to cooperatively play with his peers. I'm afraid his peers will eventually get frustrated with this behavior and not want to play with him, or always refuse to play 'his' games, because of this.

I'm trying to figure out how I can show him that it's okay to modify a game and play it in ways other's want to play it, that he shouldn't always dictate the script for how other's play with him. In this regard his sister's easy going nature is almost a detriment, since he is use to dictating how she plays with him and she is his most common playmate.

Should I explain to him that there are games I don't want to play with him precisely because even I get bored with them when he won't let me get creative or modify the rather repetitive way he want's to play? How do I encourage him to be more adaptable in how he plays with others, to adjust the play based off of whatever creativity or idea the other kids may have?

1 Answer 1


My eldest has had this issue too (and is of a similar age). I feel like this is common in first children, really; for the reason you state mostly - the younger sibling(s) often go along with their lead, because that's what they're used to from younger (when they didn't really know much). Over time, that dynamic changes at home; my youngest is less than two years younger, so now they're starting to develop more of an equal relationship where it comes to this. So - that part of the dynamic will change, eventually.

However, in the short term we've found that two things help. One is talking to our eldest about the issue, pointing it out when it occurs - specifically, when there is hurt feelings on their side because of this. When they come to us and ask "J won't play with me," one of our first questions (after expressing sympathy) is to find out what happened, and often they come back with "I was telling J to do X and they didn't want to," or "J wasn't following the rules of the game" (which our child made up, of course).

When that happens, we point out that both parties have to agree on the rules, and it has to be a meeting of equals, or one person might not want to play with the other. We point out how it would feel on the other foot; it would make them feel badly, of course. We help talk over strategies for navigating this - how to talk to their friends to get to a place they can both be happy; to consider alternating who gets to make rules, or alternating rules, or just mixing things together and seeing what happens.

The second thing we do is - let it happen. Ultimately, the best teacher is experience; as long as we've provided the tools and framing for understanding what's going on (as above), and pointed out that they may lose friends if the friends don't want to go along with their games, then letting it happen is not a bad thing. They will see they lose friends when they're too aggressive, and then we can talk about that, and strategize how to make that friend back together, or how to carry ourselves in the future to avoid losing other friends.

We've seen our eldest make big strides here, particularly in the last year or so. They more and more often do play by rules that are more of a collaboration than a one sided ordeal, and they have better tools for figuring out the issues. It's not perfect, there's still a lot left to learn, but they're getting there.

Much of this approach my wife and I worked out from parenting books like "The Gift of Failure" (Lahey) and "How to Raise an Adult" (Lythcott-Haims); the focus of these kinds of books is to avoid over-parenting, and allow children to fail on their own, but give them the tools to handle that failure and to recognize how to correct their failures. Fixing all of a child's problems, and preventing them from crashing, means they won't learn how to maneuver themselves when they're older; so the goal should be strategic, not tactical.

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