Photo: Brian A Jackson (Shutterstock)
My daughter was excited about the new girl in the mostly male Tae Kwon Do class. After class, I whispered, “Do you want to go talk to her?” My daughter nodded and went over, I thought to say hi. Instead my daughter, who has been going to Tae Kwon Do for exactly one month, gave the girl some pointers and then walked away, her head held high. The girl looked crestfallen.
As much as I admire my strong female for her confidence—and want to encourage that confidence—I don’t want her to miss out on making friends. So I spoke with psychiatrist and parent coach Jess Beachkofsky on how to teach your child to be less of a “know-it-all” while still encouraging them to speak their mind.
Why are little kids “know-it-alls”?
“The know-it-all kid is a normal stage of development most kids go through in the early elementary school years, commonly between the ages 6-9,” says Beachkofsky, with some kids hitting it more noticeably than others. She mentions that neurodivergent kids may take longer to get through this stage than “typical.”
It happens as part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which a person’s lack of knowledge and skills in any given area causes them to overestimate their own abilities. Sounds like an 8-year-old, yes? “Kids are excited to share what they know,” Beachkofsky says. “They’ve learned, and started to care about, getting ‘right’ answers or knowing ‘indisputable facts.’ School and parents reward this kind of learning, and it feels good to be praised.” However, if it’s bordering on annoying, “it can be really hard as a parent to just stand by and watch your kid ostracize themselves because they always have the ‘right’ answers.”
So if your kid isn’t moving through the phase without causing social damage, there are a few ways to help.
Help kids gain perspective
While it’s very hard to convince a child that their point of view isn’t the only one, Beachkofsky says, “One of the biggest things a parent can do to help their kid (and sanity) during this touchy time is to try to help your kid to build some perspective.” While it’s normal for kids to be egocentric, slowly integrating times when kids can see things from other people’s POV is a good practice. In fact, my child’s third grade teacher has made “perspective” the “theme” of the entire school year.
In your own home, Beachkofsky suggests, “Sometime after a know-it-all instance takes place, ask your kid what was going on. Have them describe the situation. Then offer some thoughts on anyone else that may have had a different opinion, or who didn’t get to provide any comments because your know-it-all kid took over.” In my daughter’s Tae Kwon Do exchange, I could say, “How do you think she felt about getting a tip from someone who isn’t the teacher?” or “How would you feel being told you did something wrong on your first day?”
Beachkofsky says instead of shaming your child, make sure the way you frame these questions “is done from a place of curiosity and love, not trying to show your kid how bad and selfishly they were acting because shame and guilt won’t help this situation go any better.”
Model not knowing all the answers to their questions
While we sometimes feel the pressure to be omniscient parental figures, it’s OK that you don’t always know everything. Modeling not knowing all the answers is a good way to teach your child that they might not know it all either.
In fact, “oftentimes an insightful question can garner even more positive attention than a correct answer,” Beachkofsky says. I have come to enjoy some of my children’s weird and wonderful existential questions and I’ve told them as much. Some favorites I have praised because I don’t know the answer to over the last year include: “Why does counting go on forever?” “If you ate yourself would you double in size or disappear?” and “How come humans can see as far as they can?”
Don’t act like a know-it-all yourself
When they try to know more than you, it’s important to use these as teachable moments. When my daughter yells at me because, while listening to Hamilton, she swears up and down that one character’s name is “Fafalette,” I can do one of two things. I can show her what it feels like to be around a know-it-all and tell her, no, it’s Lafayette, and, while I’m at it, I can turn off the music and talk to her about the history of the United States for the rest of the car ride. Beachkofsky says this is probably not going to be an effective method for curbing the behavior. “If you’re always right and telling everyone the answers, then it’s expected that your kid will want to do the same,” she says.
Correcting them when they’re wrong or praising them when they’re right doesn’t work to help their social skills. Instead, “sometimes providing information about the context as it relates to the situation can be helpful for gaining perspective,” she says.
To my daughter, I can say I didn’t like being yelled at or that her tone hurt my feelings. If you say your car can go a million miles an hour and a kid says, “cars can’t go that fast,” Beachkofsky says you can say something like, “When I made that comment about how fast my car goes it was kind of a joke. It didn’t really matter exactly how fast the car goes because I was being silly and trying to make it funny. Sometimes things can be extra funny because I’m wrong.”
In the end, “making them aware of other people and their feelings or goals will help but this also takes time,” Beachkofsky says. Most kids will “read the room” as they get older, but some might need a little help to learn that being right isn’t always the most important thing.