If you could see my face right now, you would notice that my left eye is twitching uncontrollably. You might also notice that my right eyebrow has sprouted a gray hair. This, I firmly believe, is because I am in the trenches of dealing with a kid who has become the consummate know-it-all, and it is driving me crazy.
As kids grow, they naturally pass through different stages of development that, ideally, help them prepare for adulthood. The first year is the year of walking, the second year is the year of talking, and the third is potty training. At my house, apparently, the seventh year has brought us smack into the annoying terrain of the know-it-all stage in which my kid thinks it is totally okay to correct people by pointing out how oh-so-wrong they are, but fear not, he is always right. You, the mere mortal, are wrong. Always wrong.
How did we get here? Is it my fault? My husband and I have always praised our kids, but never in such a way that encouraged them to be mini-divas in the making. We expect our children to use basic manners and practice kindness, and when they don’t, they face consequences aimed at correcting those behaviors. So, what gives with this new stage that feels a lot like my child is kind of being an arrogant brat?
Turns out, the know-it-all phase is exactly that: a stage. When kids reach the early school years, their little minds are blown away by all the knowledge and information forming new wrinkles in their smart brains, and they are really excited to share all the amazing stuff they’ve learned.
So when my 7-year-old is able to tell me the accurate speed at which a peregrine falcon can dive (it’s 200 miles per hour, in case you’re wondering) and he gets praise and sparks an engaging conversation with me on the topic that he finds so fascinating, it is no wonder he will also find seemingly endless ways in which to impart his factoids on everyone around him. Because, in his mind, knowing impressive facts seems to translate into attention, and he loves attention.
But when the habit of “Hey, Mom, did ya know?!” becomes “You’re wrong. It’s this,” then we have a problem. Sometimes the cause for this is all about insecurity. According to an interview in Parents magazine, Lisa Spiegel, co-founder of Soho Parenting, in New York City, says that “Seven- and 8-year-olds understand much more now about the things going on around them, and they feel pride in their newfound knowledge and skills. It’s natural for them to want to show that off and receive positive feedback.” But even when kids feel valued, they can still want to feel like they are the best at something, which is when the know-it-all stage rears its ugly head.
Lately, at my house, this know-it-all phase has been manifesting itself in my 7-year-old correcting his little brother about absolutely everything. I cannot tell you how many times I have broken up arguments that go like this, “Yes, it is!” “No, it isn’t!” “Yes, it is too!” At first, we thought this was a basic sibling rivalry, but we soon noticed that the arguments were consistently being started by our 7-year-old insisting that his brother is just plain wrong. And he won’t let it go, so his brother gets upset and he gets upset, and then we get upset because there’s way too much whining and fighting.
To combat this behavior, we have done everything from try to reason with him by reinforcing that he is smart, but that doesn’t mean he needs to tell everyone else they are wrong; lecture him about social etiquette and remind him how we treat our friends; dole out time-outs; and even threaten to take away his tablet (the ultimate punishment) if his constant know-it-all attitude persisted. But none of that worked. He was still lecturing everyone, and he was still making his younger brother feel bad.
In the end, for us, it came down to understanding two fundamental things. First, that wanting to be an expert is a natural stage at this point in his development. And second, that no matter how much meddling, coaching, or directing my husband and I do, there will always be at least a little bit of sibling tension. Our kids will figure it out, and in the meantime, we are there to make sure they do it in a safe, respectful way, even if one of them always seems to “know” better.
We know the day will come when Mr. Know-It-All gets put in his place by another one of his kind, and that’s a lesson we can’t teach, so we will manage until that time comes.
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