Grace, my 5-year-old, is bossy. Very bossy.

Don’t get me wrong. She’s sweet, loving, funny, well behaved, smart, reliable and easy to get along with. She’s helpful, kind and thoughtful – we call her The Charmer. She has a great personality. People come up and tell me this all the time. Strangers even. She’s a genuine delight.

But still. Her favorite word is Hmmt. Her second favorite is hmph. Or rather, Hmph! Though she doesn’t only punctuate the word with an exclamation point. She also uses crossed arms, raised eyebrows, a jauntily-tilted head, tightly pursed mouth and stomping right foot. Sometimes her little fist is planted on a jutting hip, elbow crooked at a defiant angle.

“Who left the hall light on?” she’ll ask. “Annie? Was it you? Annie, come right here this instant and turn it off!”

Where is this coming from? It seems like only yesterday that she barely said a word, that she used gestures and grunts instead of, you know, standard English. If she wanted to go higher on the swing, she’d raise her hand. If she wanted food, she’d say mm-mm and rub her belly. If she wanted to watch TV she’d say baa because Shaun the Sheep was her favorite show. What happened to my quiet, docile, chilled-out little girl?

“What do you want for lunch?” I ask.

“Jelly sandwich.”

A few minutes later a jelly sandwich appears.

She gives me an admonishing look. “I did not ask for that.”

“You did, honey.”

No! I didn’t.”

She’s very demanding and unforgiving of mistakes, even nonexistent ones. She’ll eat the sandwich, though. It’s what she wants. We both know that. We don’t get mad at her prickliness, not unless she’s unusually rude or stubborn. We laugh and she laughs back.

We get it. She wants to assert herself. Kids, especially little ones, walk around all day getting told what to do by adults and they never get to tell us what to do. It’s natural and reasonable that they want to boss us around, too, so we let her. A little. She wants to assert her own power, independence and individuality. She wants to be taken seriously, to have input, to be an equal member of the family just like her big sisters. As parents, it’s important that we support her efforts to grow and mature, though of course we also need to teach her the proper way to assert herself without being overbearing or aggressive.

Grace has also learned sarcasm and a touch of snarkiness. Snarkasm, we call it. One day I overheard her in the kitchen speaking to one of her sisters. Well, those dishes aren’t going to wash themselves, are they? Hmmt. Then she stomped off. There weren’t even that many dirty dishes in the sink. Maybe two or three. And where did she even hear that expression? TV? She wouldn’t have heard it at home. It was sort of scary, like when her sister Kate came home one day and started talking about “light jazz.” Where on earth did she hear that phrase? And who was exposing her to Kenny G?

This all came to a head at school last week. Her friend Jonathan was singing to himself. Grace asked him to stop. She asked him very politely and said please, at least by her account. But Jonathan kept singing. So she wrote him a letter:

Dere Jonothn.

I hop yu be a bedr frend.

Love Grace M.

Grace reminds me of the strict school teachers I had in the 70s. They wouldn’t let anything slide. All misbehavior resulted in swift punishment and a note home to your parents. (They probably wouldn’t sign it Love, though.) My daughter’s note was impressive. She has a decent command of letter-writing conventions, such as the greeting and complimentary close, even if she doesn’t know her way around a comma. I’m glad she’s so confident and assertive – she knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it. (Or demand it. Or call you a bad frend if you don’t give it.) The handwritten letter, rather than a text or tweet, is a nice touch. I appreciate the literacy (sort of), the awareness of polite social practices, the self-reliance. We weren’t so thrilled with the letter’s bossiness, though, or its rather severe tone.

A few days later, Jonathan’s mom approached me. Apparently, he’s composing a letter to her. Hm. Maybe Grace is inspiring other kindergarteners to write. That’s not so bad. Encouraging language proficiency, polite communication (sort of) and the ancient tradition of writing with pen and paper. Maybe this bossiness is a good thing.

Or maybe not. Yesterday, Grace’s friend Jenny came over to play. The first thing The Charmer said was, “I’m allowed to tell you what to do. So don’t jump on the bed or run in the house. You have to listen to me.” That’s what having fun and playing with friends is all about – clearly defined boundaries and sharp discipline. Later, Grace asked Jenny what her last name was. Jenny told her. “No, that’s not right,” Grace said. “I’ll tell you how to say it. Cr—

Afterward, we explained how wrong this was, that you should never correct someone’s pronunciation of her own name. Especially when it’s a long, complicated Ukrainian name and you don’t speak Ukrainian. And you’ve never even heard of the Ukraine.

“Okay,” Grace said. “I won’t do that again. Even though she is pronouncing it wrong.”

We let that one go.

Grace crossed her arms. “But can I still correct her if she spells it wrong?”