Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Correction Stops Here

There’s a tricky little trip-up that’s been happening more and more often in our house.  It seems that my oldest daughter has a very pressing urge to always be correct, and to assert her correctness whenever necessary.
The girls could be playing happily together, dancing to a pretend soundtrack when things go awry.  The three-year-old might be rocking out with her best twitching and stomping and shaking, but if her big sister has a different idea for how their imaginary dance-party should proceed, she’ll make sure to voice that opinion.
“No, no, no; this is beautiful, soft music,” she sighs.  “You’re supposed to be dancing like THIS.”  Stepping lightly, she demonstrates an elegant swoop and twirl, while her sister frowns in confusion: she was just dancing.  What could be wrong with that?
And it happens in all areas of daily life.  If my 3-year-old is singing her ABC’s and mixes up the order of a few letters, she gets corrected by big sister.  If she fails to arrange her toys in the exact right position, big sister makes it known.  If she colors outside the lines, she’s given a lecture by big sister.  The ways in which she is incorrect are innumerable, and I’m starting to worry that my youngest daughter will develop a lack of confidence where her sister’s opinion is concerned. 
Gently, I remind my five-year-old that when she was three, she also used words in silly ways or mixed up song lyrics.  I try to impress upon her that she doesn’t have to correct other peoples’ actions; we all do things differently, and that’s okay.
But either she doesn’t believe me, or she enjoys being right too much to abandon it.
I’d almost given up hope on ever helping her through this phase until one day in the car when my husband was singing along with the radio.  He was enthusiastic and pitch-perfect.  He loved the band and the song was an old favorite.  And then, he sang the wrong words.  The syllables didn’t even work out correctly, and it made my ears prickle in dismay.  When he did it again, I immediately had to let him know: he was messing it up.  The words were wrong, and for that matter, his timing was off.  I sang a few bars to show him the difference.
He looked at me sideways and kept on singing it the way he meant to: incorrectly.  He liked it like that.  And though it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up to let go of being right, I realized that I had to.  Not only for the sake of my much-abused husband, although that would be reason enough, but for the sake of my kids.
I understood what my daughter is so often exposed to: a parent correcting things that aren’t of any importance at all.  Why shouldn’t she do the same thing?  Even if kids of her age seem to be hardwired towards thinking they’re always right, I have to admit that my influence has probably had a hand in her tendency towards uber-correctness.
Until I, as a parent, can maintain a better grip on my own struggle with this issue of needing to be right, there’s not much chance of helping my child with the same thing. 
So here’s to correcting myself before correcting others, and to hoping it’s not too late to teach tolerance with tolerance.


  1. Very interesting post that certainly rang bells for me, as the mother of two daughters 6 years apart. We actually bought the oldest a cushion saying 'You can agree with me or you can be wrong' and she doesn't deny it when we remind her why!
    The problem is that, as parents, we have to gently correct in order to teach our children, and the difficulty is, as you say, to stay on the right side of the fine line between telling and telling off :-) Thank you for sharing.
    Jane Gray

  2. Our oldest is the same way...and so am I. Several years ago, when I first realized this, one of our family mottos became "It's better to be kind than to be right". We still struggle sometimes, but it has gotten better!

  3. What a lovely, thoughtful post. And I think it's not just about tolerance, but also creativity, which requires the confidence to act, even if one might be wrong. Maybe being "right" gives her some form of self-affirmation and helps build her esteem on the one hand, but it might be a shaky confidence that tends towards anxiety when things turn out "not quite right" or fall into shades of grey. A firmer sense of self might come from daring to be wrong or different (since there can be a lot of ways of being right) and learning from what works and what doesn't. I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud here! :)


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?