Maybe your child's favorite refrain on the playground is, "That's not how you kick the ball; do it like this!" Or, maybe he's entered a new phase where he likes to challenge every Monopoly move his little brother makes, or corrects all the baseball facts his best friend rattles off. One thing's for sure: For everyone around him, this know-it-all attitude has grown tiresome. Why is it so important for him to be right all the time?
"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," says Lisa Spiegel, cofounder of Soho Parenting, in New York City. "It's natural for them to want to show that off and receive positive feedback." However, it can become a problem if your child's smarty-pants ways start affecting how other kids and adults see him. Our experts can help you understand why your kid might be acting this way and how you can help.
She's Focused on Her Friends.
Kids this age are tuned in to what their peers are doing, and it's easier for their ego to get bruised. On some level, your child believes that knowing everything will give her social clout.
How to Help Teach your child to consider how her behavior is perceived by her friends. If you catch her acting like a know-it-all, approach her when the two of you are alone and point out what you witnessed in a gentle but matter-of-fact way, suggests Fran Walfish, Psy.D., author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond With Your Child. Say something like, "Earlier on the playground I heard you tell Sophie she was wrong about your game, and she seemed to get upset." Then ask her how she would feel if Sophie told her she was wrong. Suggest friendlier ways for her to point out differences next time by saying something like, "I have a different idea than you," or "I disagree." Of course, this won't instantaneously fix her M.O., but it will plant the seed of empathy.
He's More Worldly.
By 7, your kid has amassed a ton of information. His teacher may say he's constantly raising his hand or shouting out answers. While it's great that he's eager, he shouldn't dominate the class.
How to Help Explain to him that he needs to make space for others. If you've begun a dialogue about how his tendency to outshine everyone else makes his friends feel, the next part of your talk can be about allowing others to participate. Start with an example, so he knows what you mean. You could say, "I saw at karate that you kept answering all of the questions that the sensei asked, but a lot of other kids were also raising their hand. More than one person should get an opportunity to show people they know things." Tell him that if he gives others a chance to share, they'll be more likely to listen to him when he has something to say.
She's Used to Being Praised.
For years, you've been congratulating your child for every milestone. She ate spinach for the first time! Caught her first ball! Read her first book! So it makes sense that she would seek your approval by pushing those praise buttons in you. "If you tell her everything she does is wonderful, she'll continue seeking that positive reinforcement everywhere she goes," says Pete Stavinoha, Ph.D., director of the neuropsychology service at the Children's Medical Center of Dallas.
How to Help Compliment her, but take it down a notch. For instance, instead of praising every correct answer on her homework, comment on her overall effort. If you do so less often, you'll teach her to be happy about the work she did rather than your praise. Then, when she's at school or with friends, she won't be shocked when her knowledge doesn't elicit a big reaction from others.
He's Actually Overcompensating.
"Kids who feel insecure in one area may overdo it in another to make up for what they think they are lacking," says Spiegel. If your child is constantly telling his friend how much more he knows about Pok?mon than his friend does, he might be feeling like he's coming up short with another skill. Perhaps his friend has mastered how to pop wheelies. Your child could be thinking, "What am I better at than he is -- and how can I show him?'
How to help Tell him it's okay to have different talents, says Spiegel. "His friends will always be better at some things than he is, and vice versa. These differences are actually good and something to be celebrated."
Originally published in the October 2011 issue of Parents magazine