How to Address a 5 Year Old's Know-it-all Attitude - SWH

Updated on March 28, 2018
N.Z. asks from Los Angeles, CA
18 answers

I received an email today from my daughter (E)'s teacher. I have copied the relevant portions:

"E is very bright and very aware that not all the students in the class are as advanced as she is. She has made comments about K's work. K told her mom that she felt picked on by E. I don’t think E is picking on her, but I do know E corrects K's mistakes at times.

I have talked to E about making sure we say nice things not only to K, but to all our classmates. Since my talk with E, she has made a great effort to say kind things to friends. I would like your help to better explain that what E is doing isn’t wrong, but it can make a friend sad."

Some background: my daughter is 5.5 and will turn 6 in mid-July. We put her in TK rather than kindergarten even though she's technically supposed to be in kinder (cut-off is September 1) against the school's advice (she tested well on the Gesell test) because we felt her social-emotional development was lagging. All her classmates have birthdays that fall between July and November.

I've personally seen my daughter do what the teacher described and it made her seem like a Ms. Know-it-all. It doesn't happen frequently, but I have seen it. At the same time, from what I know of my daughter, I know that doing things the correct/right way is important to her and that she's not doing it with the intent to hurt the person she's correcting. She likes to share her knowledge. So how do I teach a 5 year old to share her knowledge tactfully? Or should I just be black and white and tell her not to make a negative comment on other's work? Or do I just do what the teacher said -- that what she is doing makes her friends sad?

When I google "know-it-all," a sense of superiority and underlying insecurity are mentioned. Should I be concerned that my five year old has a sense of superiority or underlying insecurity?

Also, should I contact K's parents and talk to them about this/apologize?

Thank you, everyone.

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So What Happened?

I responded to the teacher's email asking whether E has done this to other classmates and the teacher said that she has, but the no one else has been upset about it. She also mentioned that E has corrected the teacher (!!!) as well when she mispronounced while reading (the teacher wears retainers), but that she doesn't mind and that it actually tells her that E is paying attention.

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answers from Washington DC on

I would keep it simple and tell her that she should only help the kids that ask for her help. Let the other ones learn on their own and learn from their mistakes. The teacher and their parents will help them. Maybe do a little role playing at home and have her play the role of the child she corrects and then trade off and have her play her role "the kinder, gentler" way.

She sounds awesome and like she really just wants to share her knowledge!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Kalamazoo on

Just building on other responses, including the role play etc. This is a GREAT opportunity to really start teaching empathy! so important!

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Norfolk on

It's a fairly normal stage.
E is acting like she is the teacher - and she needs to let the teacher handle her friends work.

You explain to E that everyone goes to school to learn, everyone learns at a different pace, some people have different learning styles - and she needs to let the teacher do her job.

Also, no matter how much she knows right now - she still has a lot to learn.
While some subjects come easily for her, others will be harder - and how would she feel if a friend who knew that subject kept correcting her?
Maybe try some role playing with her so she finds out what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

Kids often like to show off how much they know.
Our son went from learning the rules to becoming the rule enforcer.
We had to tell him it wasn't his job - let the teacher take care of rule breakers.

I was serious when I said this was a stage.
EVERY 5 yr old goes through a know-it-all stage one way or another.
And we are all proud on some level that they know things.
At 3 years old our son could just look at a fire truck and tell you if it was a pumper or ladder truck and he'd happily explain what outriggers were to anyone who would listen.

Don't worry about contacting other kids parents.
You work with E on her interpersonal skills - which is what this is all about.

This problem resolves itself within a year or two.
By 2nd grade - at least in my sons school - the teacher would pair kids off and they'd help each other - at that age, helping to proof read and kindly suggesting corrections is encouraged.
Don't make a mountain out of a mole hill - this is just a small speed bump in the grand scale of things.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Google can be a great thing and it can be a horrible thing. In this case? I don't think Google is your friend. Please don't put your daughter in that box. She's 5. She's NOT a "know it all" - while I don't know her and have never met her - she sounds like a typical 5 year old who wants to share with others and help them do better.

As to what I would tell her? I would tell her that she should ONLY try and "correct" someone when they ASK for her help and NOT before. Tell her that when she steps in BEFORE she is asked, people's feelings can be hurt.

By NO MEANS is she picking on someone else. URGH. The term "picked on" and "Bully" are used wwwayyyy too much and very often, wrong! This is part of what's wrong with society. people cannot constructive input - which is what your daughter was/is doing.

Tell her that some people need to hear it from a TEACHER and not a peer. Tell her she can still be friends with "K" - but not to look at K's work and correct her. Let the teacher do that.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i dunno. it sounds as if it's being addressed by the teacher, and by you, and the bottom line is that she's really trying hard to comply.

i think that's commendable in a 5 year old.

she doesn't sound snotty, she just sounds like a stickler for 'doing it right' (not necessarily a bad thing) and as if, like 99% of 5 year olds out there, she doesn't have 'tact' perfectly within her skill set.

i think it's fine to address it, especially since the other girl mentioned feeling picked on. but i'd do it with a very light hand. 'honey, i'm glad you're trying to help K. sometimes people prefer to figure things out on their own. leave her be from now on, please. the teacher will help her.'

but don't make it into a Big Thing. back the teacher up, but don't hammer away at it.

as for K and her parents, geez, 5 year olds are still learning about the social graces. do you see them around the school water cooler? if so then yeah, i'd probably mention it, but lightly. 'hi carolina, nice to see you. the teacher mentioned that E makes K feel bad sometimes. i'm sorry to hear that. we're working on it with her.' but i wouldn't go hunt down someone i didn't otherwise know.

it's on them to work on bolstering their daughter's confidence as it's on you to keep working on making E conscious of kindness (and it sounds as if she is, even if she doesn't always handle things perfectly.)

if E were being deliberately mean it would be another story. but from what you write here it's basically just a case of kids learning how to speak and hear each other, which is an ongoing process. a little bit of perceived snottiness and an occasional wounded feeling are how they learn to interact in the wolfpack. sometimes we intervene too quickly.


7 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I would keep it simple and just say that the rule is - WE don't correct other people's work. That's for the teacher to do.

The more simple you keep it - the easier it is to enforce, and for the kids to understand.

I don't personally think it has to do with insecurity etc. I think she's 5 1/2 years.

I don't think you need to contact K's parents. The teacher has let them know that she has addressed it with you and that's enough. Honestly, this kind of thing happens all the time.

I had a know-it-all and I had a by-the-book rules type kid too. At around 7, there's a big maturity leap. It will come.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

It sounds like the teacher has it handled, and E has gotten the message. I think just asking E about school in a general way and how she is feeling, what she thinks about her teacher, her peers, etc is a good opening. If she brings up the teacher's correction, it's good to listen and empathize first. Then there may be a natural place for you to reinforce the teacher's message as a good one, so she knows you and her teacher are on the same page. And tell her you are glad she listened carefully to her teacher, and you know she is working her hardest to do what she says. I would keep the conversation light because her behavior is very normal for a child her age. She's 5. She's smart, and she's confident, but social skills such as tact and awareness of other children's feelings is a work in progress. As she develops and matures, social experience and cues will come into play, and she's going to naturally self-filter her corrective comments. Otherwise, I would probably only bring it up with her if/when you hear say any of those kinds of comments outside of school. I would not contact K's parents. The teacher seems capable of helping the girls figure things out at school.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

I wouldn't contact K's parents. But perhaps you could help E figure out a little way to say something kind to K, as a way of apologizing. Something simple, like, "I liked the book you chose for story time". Or just help E by role playing some kind things to say.

I'm glad that you and the teacher realize she's not being a bully, but that she hasn't developed the social maturity to know when to keep quiet.

And maybe that's the path you can follow, knowing when to keep quiet. Talk to her about being a teacher someday. Let her pretend she's the teacher and you're the student and role play how a teacher acts and what the students should/should not be doing (you can use a doll or stuffed animal as an additional student, and you can "tell the teacher" that Dolly is writing the wrong answer). Help E learn that when she is not the teacher, or the leader, or in charge, she should keep quiet about mistakes others may be making. Help her learn when to speak up, such as if Johnny at the desk beside her looks sick, or if she sees another student get pushed or injured. If she is the line leader going to another area of the school, she has the right to ask the others to walk single-file, quietly, etc. But if she's not the line leader, she only has the right to make herself walk quietly. And if she's a student in class, she is to respond to the teacher only, and not mention a speech impediment or mispronounced word.

My ds was a similar child - bright beyond his years, and quick to correct. In 1st grade, when we had moved to a new state, he was enrolled in a small public school. The teacher had written ds' name on the board, along with a little bit of info about him, places we had lived, that he had one little sister, and that his dad was a Lieutenant in the Navy. I completed all the paperwork for enrollment, and walked with ds down to his new classroom. The teacher saw him, and greeted him, and said something like "class, our new student is here". Ds, still standing in the doorway, said, without missing a single beat "you spelled Lieutenant wrong". Nothing else. Not hello or anything. And sure enough, the teacher had spelled it Leuitenant or something. She took it in stride but I was mortified. We talked after that about a time and place for correcting someone, and how to keep quiet.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I don't think your daughter is being a know it all. I think she's just trying to make sure other's work is correct. At 5 she's is still figuring out the social graces and hasn't figured out that pointing out mistakes could make others feel bad.

I agree with everyone to explain that teachers teach and its not your daughter's job to correct mistakes that others make because that's part of teaching. Let her know that its important not to correct other people's mistakes in school because the teacher can't help them if she doesn't know they are struggling.

Do not contact K's parents for any reason concerning this issue. The issue happened at school. Its being handled at school. If you want just have your daughter apologize at school. Calling the parents is kind of making a mountain out of a mole hill.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Like other's have said, this is normal behavior for 5 year olds. It may stand out more to her teacher because she's older than many of her classmates. (For example, my son and several of his classmates turned 6 in May of their kindergarten year.) So while a TK teacher might not normally see this behavior, a Kindergarten teacher wouldn't be surprised to see it.

I don't think she has a sense of superiority or insecurity. I think she's just trying to be helpful and doesn't understand the dynamics. It sounds as if she's listening to the teacher and trying to do better, and that's great.

Try asking her how she'd feel if one of her friends kept telling her she was doing things wrong. And then explain to her that K feels the same way, and so E needs to let the teacher talk to her.

I don't think there's any need to contact the other parents.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I think the best way to teach her is to remind her to focus on her own work, and that unless a friend ASKS for help it's not her job (or business) to tell or show her what to do. Do a little role playing with her, where you are a classmate clearly doing something "wrong" and help her learn how to respond appropriately.
Because you have chosen to keep her with younger peers this will likely be an issue going forward, so keep checking in with her and her teacher from time to time. Being older AND a perfectionist will be challenging, and you don't want it to get in the way of her making friends.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

This is really just about teaching E to "stay in her own lane", as they say.

Don't think of it as teaching her not to make a *negative* comment about her peer's work - think of it as teaching her not to say *anything* about her peer's work! ("Nice job with the spelling today, K" - coming from E, that's just patronizing!) She can tell K she likes K's need to comment on K's schoolwork. (You would be wildly overstating to frame it as "telling E not to share her knowledge" - E's knowledge can be shared to *benefit* E, E can speak up in class...E just can't go around rubbing her knowledge in other people's faces.)

E may have underlying insecurity - but, you already knew she had social-emotional room for improvement - do not worry about that.

I think it would be nice to reach out to K's parents if you know them, but if they are practically strangers then I do not think you need to stress about having this conversation with them.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I think you have a clear sense that her academic/fact knowledge is way ahead of her social abilities. That's not abnormal at all - it's just where your particular child is. And it was clearly a good decision on your part not to push her ahead into kindergarten.

I would absolutely not call the other child's parents. That is not appropriate, because it is the teacher's job to handle classroom infractions. I'm also not sure that the teacher should have told you which kid was upset - and the parents might be concerned that the teacher is sharing info about their child with another parent. So steer away from that entirely.

The simple message my husband has always given to kids (and to adults who need a reminder) is this: "No one ever learned anything while they were talking."

So, your daughter is paying attention, yes, but she's just waiting for someone to make a mistake so she can correct them, instead of listening to take in all the other info in the story or the lesson. So she is critiquing the teacher's speech without realizing that the teacher has a reason for pronouncing a word in a certain way. This is a reminder to all of us not to judge others. The teacher says she didn't mind, but I think maybe she should. She doesn't want you to get all upset about the teacher's feelings BUT someone else (especially a child, but not only that) shouldn't have to hear about it just because your kid noticed it.

Being helpful to others is one thing. Being bossy, pointing out errors, or criticizing the way in which another person learns is not okay. So teach your daughter, over time, that people may do things in different ways and they learn in different ways. For example, there is probably a big banner in the classroom with the alphabet on it. But we also sing the "ABC Song" all the time. Why? Because some people learn visually ("by looking") and some people learn in an auditory way (by hearing, singing). Others are tactile learners and take in info through touching or going through certain motions. Another example - it's one thing to watch someone ride a bike or do a somersault, and it's quite another thing to actually do it even if you "know how." So point out to her that the child who E thinks can't do something might be able to do it a different way, or might be able to do things that E cannot.

The other thing to teach her is that we can notice things and not have to comment on them.

There's a simple technique (but not yet good for your daughter) about deciding whether to say something: T.H.I.N.K. This is a mnemonic for the following:
T - Is it true?
H - is it helpful?
I - is it inspiring?
N - is it necessary?
K - is it kind?

You might pick a few of those - maybe N and K, or whichever you feel are best - and concentrate on those. Also be aware of whether there's a lot of correction (or excessive praise for being correct) in your house or in other settings, whether it's your daughter doing it, or someone doing it do her after she either gets something right or makes a mistake. It can be very subtle, but even sometimes when we praise our kids for knowing something, we can inadvertently influence them to correct others.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

2 approaches.
1 - talk to E about her role in the classroom. Teachers go to school for a long time to learn the best way to teach kids. Even though E just wants to help, unless someone asks her for help, she should let the teacher do the teaching.
2 - To keep the "know it all" attitude in check (I don't think she has one, but to keep one from developing in the future), I talked to my kids often at that age about how everyone has different talents. E is bright and learns easily - that's great! And look at how fast K can run, she's amazing! And then ask her - what are other things that kids in your class are good at? Refocus her on appreciating other's talents, and follow with a conversation about how great it is that everyone is good at different things because the world would be boring if we were all the same.

I don't think that you need to over-analyze E's motives. This behavior is really REALLY common at this age. 5 year old are excited to find out that they are good at something and want to share that info - it doesn't occur to them that others might not appreciate it. I also do not think you need to contact K's parents to apologize. If you want to help improve their relationship, you could put together a playdate between K and E at a playground or on other neutral ground - if they become friends, it might help K be less intimidated by E (if K's parents were writing in, this is what I would recommend to them) - but this isn't necessarily your responsibility and definitely do not mention the issue at school (which has likely already passed in the minds of both kids).

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

You've learned first hand why kids shouldn't be red shirted. By 3rd grade all the kids are about the same socially.

I wonder if you can move her up. I would think she will be completely bored and start acting out more. This is what I've seen over and over when kids that are ready academically but they're in a class that isn't as there yet. They are bored and start doing things to entertain themselves or keep their active minds busy. So they end up getting in trouble while the rest of the class is learning the material that is age appropriate for them.

Please talk to the school and find out if you can put her with kids her own age, I bet you'll see a great improvement in her behavior and her learning experience.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

You need to tell her it's not her place to correct others. I also would like to know what TK is. Never heard of it till your posts.

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answers from Miami on

Please don't contact K's parents. Your child isn't even in kindergarten. You don't need to apologize for this!

Five year olds just aren't tactful. It takes years to get to that point.

I wonder if her teacher would have sent that same email to a boy's mother. Little boys are allowed to be know-it-alls. Instead of feeling like you have to squash your child's personality, tell her that it's the teacher's job to correct.

Honestly, I wonder if she is just plain bored because she doesn't have enough to do. That may be why she is paying attention to other kids work.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

It's normal for 5 year olds to not have tact. When my son was this age and was having a problem with other kids at school I would go over scenarios with him and practice different things he could say. All you can do is keep reminding her. Tell her what she can say. Go over different situations and tell her what is polite to say and what not to say. Stress to her that all kids learn at different levels and everyone is good at different things. Remind her that no one likes someone to correct them. Good luck.

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