Dear Polly, A four-year-old in my class, Isabelle, corrects everybody all the time — especially me. She seems to feel as though she has the answers to everything, even when what she says is nonsensical. I do not like Isabelle's behavior or the way I react — which is very negatively Can you help? Irritating as is the behavior you describe, a teacher or parent need not feel threatened by a young child. Of course you have much more knowledge and much more life experience. Think seriously about that, and it will help you lighten up on your feelings.

Have you thought about why Isabelle's know-it-all attitude angers you? It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that one of your parents, or perhaps an older sibling, disrespected you in this way a long time ago. When you were growing up, did you live with an extremely overbearing person who intimidated and overwhelmed you-criticizing in a way that felt like an attack? Were you treated in a way that made you feel inferior?

If you separate a long-term experience like that from the present situation with Isabelle, I believe that your unhappiness in this matter will largely disappear. The notion that a little child could always know better than an adult is silly. Of course, a child can sometimes be right, and if she is, she should be acknowledged and thanked.

Acting Superior, Feeling Inferior

Extreme behavior in one direction is usually a sign of a problem in the opposite direction. If Isabelle feels compelled to be "tighter" than everyone in her world, it's probably a clue that she feels inadequate. The solution is, in large part, to help this child see herself as a more successful person. Try these things:

  • Frequently express your support for her.
  • Have fun together, and applaud the fun she and her peers are enjoying.
  • Show respect for things Isabelle does know and accomplish, especially nonacademic things such as swinging from the monkey bars or painting an interesting picture. Help her develop and share an area of expertise.
  • If you hear Isabelle put down a classmate, say sympathetically (not critically), "When you say that, do you think it makes Sarah like you and want to be your friend?"
  • Pair Isabelle with a peer she admires and help her teach the friend something interesting. Show her how to be supportive of her friend.

No matter how ridiculous this little girl's grandiosity gets-and four-year-olds are famous for grandiosity, anyway — be an affirming and friendly grown-up. Avoid the temptation to battle with her. Focus on helping her make friends and feel good about herself. This is the best help you can offer.