My Kid Is A Tiny Pedant And I’m Not Really Sorry

26 Oct

My son is going through a pedantic phase. It’s a long phase; it’s been going on for over two years now and shows no signs of flagging. I distinctly remember when it started – he about two and a half and we were visiting my in-laws in Alberta and during an after-dinner walk corrected me when I referred to a large metal play structure as a park. “Actually,” he said, “that’s a playground. The park is what the playground is in.” I remember turning to my husband and saying, “Did you hear that? He just CORRECTED me.”

My kid has been well-actually-ing me on a regular basis ever since, which is like medium-funny because I feel like I spend half my life having dudes on the internet WELL ACTUALLY about anything and everything and the other half of my life hearing the same thing from my four year old. I know this probably just sounds like I have an extra sassy four year old and should probably spend more time disciplining him and less time explaining how casual misogyny works to strangers online.

To be fair, my kid is definitely the argumentative type. If I tell him to put on his shoes, he’ll spend about ten minutes coming up a list of solid reasons why he doesn’t need to (“I just need to play with my train first!” “My sock has a wrinkle in it!” “The sky is a funny colour!”). A friend of mine recently joked that he’ll probably have a police record by the time he’s fifteen and a lawyer by the time he’s 25, and I don’t entirely disagree with that. I sometimes worry that people think he’s rude and undisciplined, but I swear that I shut him down any time he’s actually being sassy (for example, the other day I asked him to sing me a particular song he’d learned at school to which he grumpily replied “you sing it if you like it so much” – that kind of shit earns him what we refer to as a consequence, let me tell you). But the thing is that as much as “well, actually” might grate on my nerves, especially when served up by men trying to pull some kind of power trip on me, I’m going to let my kid keep saying it for now. Because I think it’s a normal developmental stage and also a perfectly healthy reaction to how weird and messy reality is.

You probably have a pretty set idea about how the world works. Things behave according to a certain set of rules, some of which are specific to you and your environment, some of which apply to everyone you know. You spend your life working within these rules, and they mostly stay pretty constant. But every once in a while you get learn something new, and the rules change. Sometimes it’s something small, and you can adapt pretty quickly. Other times it’s something huge, something that shakes the foundation of how you understand the world. When that happens, you find yourself making big changes, maybe even feeling like you’re starting again from scratch. Luckily, the latter kind of change doesn’t happen very often. If it did, most of us would have a very, very difficult time functioning because we would always be second-guessing reality.

But for kids, especially young kids, huge sweeping changes in how they perceive the world happen all the time. And while probably on some level they are kind of used to having to rebuild their world view from scratch all the damn time, but on another level it must be terrifying and destabilizing. I’m sure their little brains can handle it because it’s all part and parcel of children develop – they create an understanding of reality based on their lived experience and build onto that as they go. But it still must be scary as fuck to have the rug swept out from under your feet on a near-daily basis.

I think that part of how kids cope with this is by being very specific about language and ideas. It’s both a safety blanket for them and a way of checking in with adults. They’re saying “this is how I understand the world” and at the same time asking “is this what you mean?” They’re not trying to be rude, just accurate.

I know that WELL ACTUALLY sounds like sassing and maybe in older kids it actually is. I’m sure my kid and I will have plenty of conversations about gender, language and how not to be a weird jerk who talks over women. Right now, though, I firmly believe that a lot of the time it’s born out of anxiety. Children know when they’ve said or believed the wrong thing. And just like grownups feel acute anxiety whenever they realize that they’ve been saying/thinking/doing a silly thing for years and years, children feel the same way too. Except they feel it all the time, and then have to hear their mistakes and misunderstandings repeated by the grownups they trust as examples of GOSH DON’T KIDS SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS?

I’m trying to keep this in mind while my son tries to navigate this whole trying-to-figure-out-the-world thing. So when I say something like “vampires eat blood” and he answers back “actually vampires eat AND drink blood,” I’m making a real effort not to be like “yeah sure but you know what I meant.” The truth is he didn’t know what I meant, not for certain. He wanted some clarification, and for now I’m happy to provide it. “Yes,” I told him, “you’re right. Vampires drink AND eat blood. It covers all of their nutritional and hydration needs.” Then we talked about how cool it is that vampires sleep in coffins. Hopefully at some point I remembered to tell him that vampires are imaginary. Probably I did.

If I didn’t, I’m sure I’ll get a WELL ACTUALLY about it soon enough.


21 Responses to “My Kid Is A Tiny Pedant And I’m Not Really Sorry”

  1. kate October 26, 2015 at 3:22 am #

    well, actually, you’ve got it nailed!!!!!!! “They’re not trying to be rude, just accurate.” I’m completely positively impressed with your actual(ly) situation and your kid – never apologize for accurate “corrections” from your son; his taste for clarity sure isn’t sass, it’s
    intelligence, and god for you for encouraging it. Too few parents even recognize it, from what I can tell. I’d love to spend time in your vicinity!

  2. maynotbesoanonymous October 26, 2015 at 4:34 am #

    Well actually, your son is truly an awesome kid. I think this just proves how smart he’s becoming at such a young age. I have a nephew that does the same. I look at it in the light that the reason they can “well actually” adults is beause they’ve been learning much already. I believe that it comes from your good parenting skills, I really do.🙂

  3. Everyday Voices October 26, 2015 at 4:55 am #

    Your kid is adorable. Unless he’s being sassy or back talking you, he is absolutely adorable. It appears my son, who’s nearly two is going down this road too. He’ll be two this Thursday and he’s already talking up a storm. My daughter who is nearly 4 is a ‘tiny pedant’ too and unless she’s being rude or nasty, I let her be and I get a good crack up. Well done mommy.

  4. Michelle October 26, 2015 at 6:14 am #

    My 5 year old niece can talk up a storm and make perfect arguments of things she does and doesn’t like. Well, perfect for her. We’ve been saying since she was 1 and a half that she would be a lawyer because she was talking up a storm then. And we always joke about the time she was 1 and talked to me in her baby talk in an aggressive way that my mom and sister both exclaimed, “Well she sure told you” (told me what we’re not sure).🙂

  5. bnzoot October 26, 2015 at 10:39 am #

    I raised one of those kids; it is part-and-parcel, I think, of the Gifted child. She wasn’t obnoxious about it, it was just she was sucking in information, storing it, recalling it, at such an alarming rate and was eager to share it, show what she knew. Just keep helping him learn the social grace of sharing his knowledge nicely, and buckle in for a great adventure of raising a super-smart kid.

  6. djgourdoux October 26, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    Well, actually, I loved this – thanks!

  7. Patrick Patterson October 26, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

    This was a good one…

  8. The Hedgeblog October 26, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

    Ha ha! Great post. My two are both like this! It can be bloody infuriating, but I have to remind myself that it’s the sign of intelligent, questioning minds. Veering on the pedantic myself – I ‘actually’ can’t complain!! 😉

    Have a great day!

    The Hedgehog x

  9. The Shameful Narcissist October 26, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    Well actually you’re an awesome patent for recognizing this and letting your kid use you as a sounding board and reference check. Many a parent WOULD take this as back talk and quell it, but you’re astute enough to recognize the nuances of a young mind desperately trying to make sense of this wacky world. I did nothing by ask questions as a child. Sometimes they were answered; sometimes they were subdued. My parents were of the school of thought they children should never disagree with them because they were the Parents and therefore that was disrespectful, which children must never be. I’m not a parent but as a child I spent a lot of time feeling invalidated and stupid because of this. I never stopped thinking of questions, but I did stop asking a lot of them and sought less judgmental sources.

  10. M.A. October 26, 2015 at 6:47 pm #

    *Actually*! Thanks for this reminder. My 7-year-old has been in actually-land for at least a couple of years now. I think it’s both about searching for certainty *and* about trying to establish himself as someone who belongs in the conversation. For what it’s worth, my oldest son (now 24) returned to actually-land during his teen years, and I think largely for the same reasons he’d done so as a preschooler and early school-age child. This post will help me when I’m breathing and counting to 10 the next time he says “actually…”

  11. Deb at The Front Door Project October 26, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

    Excellent post and approach! And he’s just four🙂 maybe one day when he’s 12 and he still does it will be the time to say “you know what, you are technically correct, but no one likes to be corrected!”

  12. evieesmama October 27, 2015 at 7:20 am #

    My almost 5yo has been like this for at least 2 years now. I’ve always just thought of it as being SUPER literal. And I tend to take things pretty literally, so it doesn’t really surprise me, but it does get a bit annoying every now and then😉❤

  13. 1weaver October 29, 2015 at 8:02 am #


  14. AnnK October 30, 2015 at 6:55 pm #

    Your patience is awesome, but you might consider warning your child that many people don’t like to be corrected, especially in public. A bit of tact, such as pulling someone off to a corner first, or sometimes swallowing his “well, actually”, might help him get along with others.

  15. Jens Lyon November 3, 2015 at 7:50 am #

    Warning… I was like that when I was a kid. I NEVER outgrew it.

  16. HoneyBeeMama November 16, 2015 at 9:18 pm #

    You wouldn’t want him to keep quiet … having a safe space to express his understanding of the world is a credit to you, his parent, his sanctuary 😀

  17. Julia November 20, 2015 at 3:49 am #

    Your kid sounds awesome. Clearly you’re doing something right🙂
    -Julia at List Maker, Picture Taker

  18. lorieb November 27, 2015 at 1:52 am #

    sounds like my middle son, always pushed the envelope, I was told it was his way of exerting his independence. He did grow out of it and now (he’s 23) laughs when i tell him things he said and did. Can’t wait till he has his own so i can get the last laugh.

  19. sliverglimmer December 23, 2015 at 10:49 am #

    I’m so glad you understand. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. When kids ask too many questions they’re actually trying to clarify something. I personally am a person who asks too many questions and there was a time when my mom was fed up with me. I was just trying to clarify. I like knowing things better. Your kid is confidant, I must say, to state it rather than question it. Very nicely put.


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