“I’m Right and You’re Wrong!” Is Your Child a Know-it-all?

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Does your child always insist that they’re right and everyone else is wrong? Some kids have a bad habit of asserting their opinions by drowning out everyone else in the room—regardless of whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Understandably, this overbearing behavior can be very annoying and frustrating for both  parents and family members alike.

“If you want a child to be a real pain in the neck—if you want to strengthen some behavior or characteristic—just argue with them. It will serve to exercise that muscle and make your child feel more powerful.”

Before I give you ideas for dealing with this behavior, I want to make one thing clear: As kids grow, they need to develop their interests and ideas, and they need to learn how to express them. They also have to learn where they end emotionally and where their parents begin—what we call "emotional boundaries." At different developmental periods, kids go through a process called separation and individuation. Sometimes this process is not very noticeable at all, and sometimes it occurs very intensively. As an older child or teen, they continue that process by learning how to form their own opinions. So realize that some of the behavior you’re experiencing with your teen or pre-teen is very normal for this stage in life.

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I also can’t stress enough the importance of listening to your child once. I know they can be obnoxious and irritating—but just remember that sometimes they might be stating an opinion about something you really need to know about. It might be something the teacher is doing that may be inappropriate, a dangerous thing the bus driver is doing, or a risky behavior on the part of your child’s friends. It’s important that you listen to your kids with an open mind, because when something important does come along, you want to make sure they feel free to bring it to you.

Saying that, if your child’s need to assert their opinions crosses the line and becomes obnoxious, there are things you can do to help curtail that behavior and teach them more socially appropriate ways of behaving, both inside and outside of the family.

Don’t Be Frightened by Your Child’s Opinions

Do not be frightened by kids’ opinions—just respond to them honestly. I think it’s much more effective to judge your child by their behavior rather than by their opinions, thoughts or ideas. Often their ideas are based on peer conversations at school, rumors, cultural events, or something they’ve seen or heard in the media. When your child or teen is talking to you, they’re often trying to shape their own opinions. It’s better to hear your child out, state your opinion honestly, let them respond, and then respectfully disengage from the conversation. That way, nobody gets their feelings hurt and you’ve avoided an argument.

So don’t be threatened by your child’s opinions and assertions, even if they’re wrong. The more you ignore these kinds of statements, the sooner they will go away. In fact, if you want a child to be a real pain in the neck—if you want to strengthen some behavior or characteristic—just argue with them. It will serve to exercise that muscle and make your child feel more powerful.

Don’t Keep the Argument Going

If your child is trying to start an argument with you, don’t keep it going. Parents often feel like they have to get the last word in to be in control, which in reality only serves to further the child’s urge to argue with you. If you disagree with your adolescent child, they often think it’s because you don’t understand what they’re saying, so they’ll keep trying to put it another way. This is because people who are immature in their communication styles aren’t always able to see that you don’t agree with their position. They think that if they could just explain it a little better, you’d understand and accept it. This is another reason why arguments with kids can keep going even after you’ve explained your point of view.

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If your child tends to be argumentative and you stay in the argument with them, it makes them feel more powerful and in control. Don’t forget: kids only have the power you give them. Some of the power they need to have is very important; it helps them develop their personal and social lives. In fact, it’s very important that they gain increasing access to power as they grow older and individuate more. On the other hand, when it comes to discussing house rules or consequences or privileges, I think that after they state their opinion, you say, “I understand, but this is the way it is,” and then leave. If you stand there, they think it’s OK to keep talking. When you get out of the situation, it takes the power out of the room.

One of the most powerful things you can do with kids who are know-it-alls is not respond to them when they try to drag you into an argument. Be respectful but disengage, because each time you respond, they feel compelled to answer back—and as you know, the discussion will just keep going and going.

When your child has come up with some erroneous statement in an attempt to prove their point, the best thing you can do is state your opinion honestly. When they state their counter opinion, you can say, “That’s really interesting. I have to go downstairs now.” If what they are saying has to do with health or safety: then you should correct it and walk away.

Don’t Let One Child Ruin It for Everybody

If family members are having dinner, watching TV or a movie together at home, don’t let one child dominate the conversation in such a way that it blocks everyone else from expressing their opinions. It’s very important to understand that while everyone’s opinion is valued, it’s usually valued once. After that, it becomes harassment. If one of your children doesn’t like what you’re having for dinner or doesn’t care for the movie choice, give them their options and don’t let them sit there and continue to annoy everyone with their negativity. Always have a back-up plan. This usually includes having them go to their room until they can let go of the topic or complaint they’re stuck on. This does not have to be a punishment or consequence. It’s just a time out for your child in his or her room, until they can get off the subject. Often, when kids are over-stimulated, anxious or frustrated, it’s hard for them to switch thoughts on their own. A change of scenery and a few minutes away from the stimulation can be very helpful.

Use Cues

Many parents of children who act in an overbearing way find it effective to come up with a cuing system with their child to signal that they’re “doing it again.” You and your child should agree on a signal, just like a cue in a movie or play. The gesture means, “Really stop it now. You’ve stated your opinion and you need to let it go. If you go further, there are going to be consequences.” Many parents find this a very effective, non-verbal tool for helping their child curtail inappropriate behavior without embarrassing them in front of others.

My Child Won’t Let His Siblings Express Themselves

If your child won’t let his siblings express themselves, or will not listen to their opinions, what I would recommend is that you say “Jack, you aren’t listening to others. How can you keep arguing your position when you won’t even listen to your sister’s answer? Why don’t you give her a second and hear what she’s saying?” That way, you provide an example to your other kids so they can learn to say, “You’re not listening.”

If your kids won’t stop arguing back and forth, you can also say, “I’m tired of this bickering. This conversation has 60 more seconds, and if you don’t stop, you’re going to your rooms.” At first, the child who’s the know-it-all might get more obnoxious, but just follow through with the consequences so he learns how to stop. Give them the responsibility that the argument has to stop in 60 seconds and when it doesn’t, you hold them accountable. In this way they learn to meet the responsibility of stopping the argument, as well as a more socially appropriate way of behaving.

Remember, as a parent, you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to; you can make choices. Although it is very important that kids feel like they’re being heard and responded to, it does not mean they get to go on endlessly. We can all debate about a lot of things, but we’re responsible to a structure in our home. The truth is, we all have varied opinions about our jobs, our supervisors, or our teachers, but as we mature, we have to learn to deal with our thoughts and feelings independently and keep our opinions separate from our functioning at school or work, as well.

This is very important for kids to understand: There’s a difference between his or her opinion about things and the way the family structure—and the world—operates.

Notes and References

About

James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.

Comments (26)
  • How to Be respectful and disengage?
    This article wonderfully brings it all to the essence within dynamics ... the. If question for me remaining is how can I respectfully disengage?
  • Elena
    The thing is, what do you do when your 14.5 yr old daughter wants to change how the world operates? She is discovering feminism, which is great, as I am a feminist. However, she is fixated on anything like a dress code, calling all such measures slut shaming. I canMore see her point about dress codes, but she turned her full temper to me when I asked her to put on a shirt when she was walking around the house wearing a white bralette (kind of like a bra shirt) that was somewhat transparent. I said one has to wear a shirt at the table. ANd I have been paying for it ever since! I usually would take her phone away but she needs it for school and honestly, for socialization during this lockdown. (She has no siblings). We usually have a good relationship and she is a good kid. Unfortunately she is pretty good at arguing, and right now her line is that the body isn't shameful so why am I shaming her? Any thoughts? Of course being in quarantine isn't helping.
  • Ukmumof3
    My 11 year old daughter has always had a problem with being told she is wrong. She's always been bossy and liked organising other kids etc. She is very intelligent and does great at school. However she now just argues with us when she is told off for something andMore makes things as awkward as possible. She shouts and gets upset and makes out like she is the victim. He acts as though she is right and we are treating her mean.any advice?
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      I hear you. It can be quite challenging when you have a child who constantly argues with you and tells you that you are being mean or unfair. It’s pretty common for most people to believe that their way of thinking is correct, and to have a hard timeMore accepting it when they are told that they are wrong. At 11 years old, it’s also normal for your daughter to have a narrow world-view, and to believe that her way of thinking is the only way to view a situation. This is not to say that you cannot change this situation, though. As outlined in the article above, one way to weaken your daughter’s arguments is to choose not to engage in these debates with her. In the end, she doesn’t have to agree with you or see that you’re “right”; she simply needs to follow the rules or experience the consequences. You might find additional tips in Does Your Child Have a Victim Mentality? 4 Steps to Turn It Around. Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family. Take care.
  • MichelleMower
    My 18 year old son thinks he's a God and treats us like dirt and engages Us in arguments on a constant daily basis as if he has a chip on his shoulder and of course my husband plays right into that and argues and argues and argues him downMore and of course nobody gets anywhere and life is miserable how do I handle my son and how do I get my husband to knock it off???
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      MichelleMower Parenting a young adult can be so challenging at times, even under the best of circumstances, and I hear the additional issues you are facing with the constant attitude and arguments between your son and your husband.  The hard part is, you can really only control yourself, and yourMore own actions.  You cannot make your son treat you a certain way, and you cannot make your husband stop arguing with him.  At this point, it could be useful to focus on developing clear boundaries with your son and creating house rules which reflect those during a calm time.  You can find more information on this in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/rules-boundaries-and-older-children-part-i/.  I recognize what a tough situation this must be, and I hope that you will write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family.  Take care.
  • Motherof2
    My son is 11. He is completely Sweet kinda loud funny and thinks he's smarter then all. He comes across as a know it all as one child Friend said. This i see from time to time too. He often let's kids know he's better then (not ever in aMore jerKY way, but in a matter of fact way) .... I have talked to him about this for years... but now I see its hindering his social friendships. If he gets something wrong in class he just yells out a joke to deflect from it... how do I help
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      Motherof2 I hear you. It can be challenging when you can see your child acting out in ways that interfere with connecting with peers, and making friends.  I’m glad to hear that you have been talking with him about this over the years.  I encourage you to continue working onMore https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-is-everyone-always-mad-at-me-why-misreading-social-cues-leads-to-acting-out-behavior/, and how to respond appropriately to those.  You might also find some helpful techniques in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-cool-kids-how-to-help-your-child-or-teen-deal-with-peer-pressure-exclusion-and-cliques/.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your son.  Take care.
  • Baltimore mom

    Hi , my 11 yr old son is always arguing. This has been going on for years but has gotten worse this year. If he is asked to do something around the house he wants to know why his sister's don't have to do it too, for example if we ask him to clear the table. We try to tell him they are being asked to do something as well but it doesn't help. He is a pretty happy nice kid at school, often described as quiet by the teachers. But outside he has issues if he is involved in any kind of game. If someone scores in soccer on the other team and my son doesn't think it was a goal, he will argue and come home complaining about it. If he doesn't think a teachers call is a good one , he comes home complaining and calling the teacher and the school stupid. He seems to have a hard time letting things go and I'm worried about him socially.

    What can I do

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      Baltimore mom I hear you.  It can be so frustrating when your child is constantly arguing and blaming others.  It’s actually a pretty common response for kids to do this when they are upset, or think that something is unfair.  After all, if your son can redirect the focus ontoMore someone else (such as a teacher, a referee, or a parent) treating him unfairly, then he doesn’t have to take responsibility for his own actions and behavior.  The most effective way to respond to this type of behavior is to not engage in the argument, and focus on your son’s behavior.  James Lehman outlines some possible responses in another article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/im-a-victim-so-the-rules-dont-apply-to-me-how-to-stop-victim-thinking-in-kids/.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family.  Take care.
      • Baltimore mom
        Thank you I will definitely read these articles, I really appreciate the response. Support like this is important for parents today ?
  • Bearcat
    Hi. I have a 13year old son who thinks he knows everything and we have had the exact arguments you mentioned above. But if I tell him to go to his room till he can calm down or take a break he refuses. I can't physically force him, thenMore he wins. Because if it's a movie we argue over he talks they the whole thing or if we turn it off that's what he wants. His brother then suffers and loses out in the activity. Or during arguments he continues to ask why and follows me around or slams doors or chairs repeatedly. He controls the situation and I don't know what to do next
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      @Bearcat 

      I hear from many

      parents who describe similar situations where their child will not leave the

      room, and will continue to follow the parents around in order to continue the

      argument.  You are not alone in this situation.  As pointed out in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-walk-away-from-a-fight-with-your-child-why-its-harder-than-you-think/,

      if your son refuses to leave the room or tries to continue the argument with

      you after you have set a limit, it tends to be most effective to stop

      communication with him until he is calm.  Although I recognize that this

      can feel like he is “winning” in the moment, you have the power to hold him

      accountable later if needed.  In addition, it’s hard when it feels like

      your other son is being punished due to your 13 year old’s behavior. 

      Something you might consider is setting up incentives or special activities for

      your other son that are not dependent on your 13 year old’s cooperation, if he

      is losing out on an activity due to his brother’s behavior.  Please let us

      know if you have any additional questions.  Take care.

  • adismom

    Hi,

    My 12 year ols son is otherwise very quiet , shy , non-social kind , but when it comes to playing on PS3 or War Of Thunder on desk top ,he becomes kind of aggressive, defiant and argumentative to the extent of being disrespectful and rude to me.He doesn't have a bunch of friends and wouldn't do small sacrifices that is required to win friends. How do I handle him ? It hurts me to see him lonely .I tell him that such virtual games will suck his enthusiasm and energy , and drive further awy from circle of actual friends.

    Please Guide,

    Thanks

    • Darlene EP

      adismom 

      There are many types of people

      in this world. There are social, outgoing people who seem to draw people to

      them, and there are quiet and shy people who are content with a friend or 2 or

      being alone for the most part. Either way, both these type of people are normal

      and one is not necessarily better than the other, they are just different.

      Considering your son is quiet and shy, it is not surprising he does not have a

      large friend circle. That is ok. If he is complaining that he does not have

      friends, that is another story. That is when it would be helpful to have

      conversations about different things he can do or say to make friends. Also, if

      your son is playing games online, that is a big social connection nowadays.

      While it may seem like he is spending time alone and not being social when he

      is playing games, it is actually just the opposite. He is most likely connected

      with many peers who have the same interests and who are enjoying their social

      time together. I hope this helps to ease your concern. Thank you for writing

      in. Take care.

  • adibhatt77

    Dear James, I need your help. My Child is 5 years old and she is studying in KG.. Teacher are worried because she has developed habit of "I know it all"  Though she is very smart and always inspire to be the best but somehow she has become dominant and doesn't share good response if things are not as per wish..Teachers say she is mature and losing her childhood. 

    I don't want her to lose confidence but at the same time I want her to be cordial and show respect to her friends

    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      adibhatt77

      I hear your concern. The behavior you describe is not

      uncommon. Your daughter is young and hasn’t yet had a lot of experience in

      social situations.  It may be helpful to talk with your daughter whenever

      the teachers make you aware of an incident. You can problem solve with her ways

      she could respond more appropriately to teachers and peers. You could also role

      play different scenarios. Rest assured, your daughter will develop these skills

      as she gets older. You can help her with that by following the suggestions in

      the above article.  James has some other suggestions for helping a child

      develop social skills in his article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/good-behavior-is-not-magic-its-a-skill-the-3-skills-every-child-needs-for-good-behavior/. Best of luck to you and your daughter moving forward. Take care.

  • Passw0rd01

    My sister is 6 years old soon to be 7 she sits there and tells everyone she is right and everyone else is wrong she doesn't listen to what she is told she annoys her brothers and sisters she has to be reminded atleast 10 times to sit down or go for a bath or go to bed my mum is out of options she has tried so much from raising us kids as a single mum I appreciate what she done for these kids but they never respect her or even listen to her my 14 year old brother does the same only he likes to play video games when he is not allowed to my mum will sit there and call his name atleast 20-40 times and he still doesn't listen so she is at breaking point with them and she has spoken to doctors and got them tested and the doctor says everything is fine there is nothing wrong with them but she just doesn't know what to do anymore

    So does anyone know what is going

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      Passw0rd01 

      Thank you for writing in.  You make a great point that

      when kids act out and do not follow the house rules, it often affects siblings

      as well as parents.  I hear how much you want to help your mom to address

      the behavior you are seeing with your siblings, and get them to follow

      directions the first time.  Because this site focuses on coaching parents

      directly, we might not be the best resource for you.  Another option for

      you might be to contact the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 or by

      visiting http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/Pages/home.aspx 

      They have trained counselors who can help you to navigate issues like sibling

      fighting, or family conflict.  They also offer the option of answering

      questions via email, text and live chat if that feels more comfortable for

      you.  You can find information on these options by visiting their

      website.  I recognize how challenging this must be for you, and I wish you

      and your family all the best moving forward.  Take care.

      • Passw0rd01

        @RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

        Thank you so much for the message I will have a look now it's just been going on for so many years now it's not funny and I want to be able to help her before I move away I am in Queensland and I am moving to nsw to be with my partner and start a new life/journey and try for kids myself

  • Backrac81
    I have a 5 year old daughter, her mom and I are have been divorced 3 years now. Her mom and I have a great relationship and we have 50, 50 split custody. Question is, she at 5 years is telling me I'm wrong and she's right at everything isMore this normal?
    • Marissa EP

      Backrac81 

      Hi there, thanks for your question! At 5 years old, it is

      completely normal for your daughter to be telling you she is right and you are

      wrong, and there are any numbers of reasons for her to be saying that. The key

      for you, though, will be to not engage in a power struggle with her.If you tell her something and she proceeds to

      say you are wrong, I would encourage you to let it go and not respond. When you

      continue to respond, it can become a game for her, until you stop responding.

      Best of luck as you continue to work on this with your daughter.

  • manicgirl69
    My son is 19 and is bipolar. He has always had problems with authority. But now he is very rude and contradicts everything we say. I feel my son puts up this persona because he's. A little afraid of being an adult,but at the same time he acts like heMore knows everything.I've also caught him exaggerating or even just lying to prove he's grown. What do you think? And how can I help him curb his opinions
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      manicgirl69

      You bring up an interesting point. It can be frustrating when

      your adult child seems to challenge everything you say. Truthfully, he does

      have the right to his own opinions, even if those opinions differ from your

      own. So, instead of trying to change his opinions, you might instead focus on

      where you have the most control, namely how you respond to the comments he

      makes. Generally speaking, getting into an argument with him probably isn’t

      going to be an effective way of responding. If he’s being rude and

      disrespectful, you can say something to him like “It’s not OK to talk to me

      that way. I don’t like it” and then walk away. You might even consider ignoring

      any remarks he makes that appear to be aimed at pulling you into an argument. As

      James Lehman points out in the above article, “You don’t have to attend every

      argument you’re invited to.” We appreciate you writing in. Take care.

  • nilanjana
    I have a 16 yr old boy who thinks he knows best and most about everything and we the parents are just ignorant. how does one deal with such attitudess?
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      nilanjana

      I hear you. Dealing with a teen’s attitude can tough to do. For

      the most part, it’s usually more effective to ignore attitude and focus on

      behavior, as outlined in the article http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Deal-with-Teens-with-Attitude.php. It is going to be important to

      differentiate between “attitude” and “disrespect”. Attitude usually has more to

      do with demeanor, tone, and how something is said or done. Disrespect on the

      other hand, is when a child insults or belittles another,  or defiantly

      refuses to do what he’s supposed to do. So, if your son is meeting expectations

      and doing what he’s asked to do, you could probably ignore his attitude. If

      he’s being disrespectful or defiant, by calling you names or refusing to meet expectations,

      you would address those specific behaviors.  For example, when your son

      calls you “ignorant”, you can say to him something like “It’s not OK to talk to

      me that way. I don’t like it” and then turn around and walk away. This is one

      technique that Carole Banks suggests in her article http://www.empoweringparents.com/do-you-personalize-your-childs-behavior-when-he-disobeys-you.php. I hope this information is

      helpful. Be sure to check back if you have any further questions. Take care.

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