When bilingual kids correct you in their native tongue.

Raising a bilingual child comes with its challenges (CLICK here to read about ‘how to raise a multilingual child’) but when the child’s first language is different to yours it can bring extra complications. As they grow older and a bit cheekier, and perhaps get better than us at speaking the other language, they may start to point out our language ‘flaws”.

I get it

And I speak from personal experience. I speak Danish to my kids, they live in an English-speaking country and their dad speaks English to them. So over time English automatically became their first language and before long their English was better than mine.

They would often correct my choice of words, grammar and pronunciation. And in the beginning it REALLY annoyed me. In my work I support lots of families who live overseas and have found that most parents have the same experiences with their multilinguistic children. And most of them got wound up by it and really didn’t know how to react to it.

Why it affects us when our kids correct us.

What does it do to us?
  • Most of us feel that it is not ok when a child corrects an adult, although it is ok the other way
  • We also usually feel that we should be better at most things since we are the adults, and they should be learning from us. So we feel ashamed or uncomfortable if they can actually teach us.
  • This can feel like a lack of respect, especially if they end up making fun of our linguistic “inadequacies”.

Tip 1. Stay curious not furious:

Understand why they are doing it.

Think about why they do what they do. Why do they say it? Feel they have to say it. Feel they have the right to correct you?

  • To help you: I would like to believe that my kids are not rude, that they only correct me because they want to help me and point it out, to share their knowledge. You know that this is the case if they very simply and politely point out mistakes, ‘mum, you say one sheep but also two sheep – you don’t need to add an ‘ s’ at the end’ etc.
  • Because they can: This is where they feel they have power and control over you. Where they are better than you and want to point that out. If this is the case, you will find that they might point out your mistakes in a negative way, maybe by mocking you and saying it in a cheeky or undermining way. If this is the case, I strongly recommend that you work on building a stronger connection with your child so he/she doesn’t feel the need to try to overpower you – put you down, control you where he/she can. A stronger connection based on positive time together everyday, where you share the daily running of the household chores (mutual respect) – where you let the child feel he/she can control some things but knows where you have to step in and be the parent and take charge. Where we respect each other.
  • Embarrassed about you: You might have a different accent to them, that is ok and normal and nothing for you to be ashamed about. But maybe they are. Particularly when they get older, when they have friends over and when you are at social events together. Here they might point it out in a whispering way (because they are embarrassed and uncomfortable) or in a mocking way – make fun of you or laugh behind your back. If this is the case there will be some tips at the end of this article that will support you.

Once you have understood the WHY you will be open to respond to their corrections in a way that sits well with you and still respects the child. You are more understanding towards them because you ‘get it’.

Tip 2. Control yourself.

How to respond.

Now you know your why and your child’s why let’s look at how you can respond to it – the WHAT to do.

Control your emotions:

I really get it, when we feel that our kids are a bit TOO smart it can bring out some really deep emotions in us: anger, embarrassment, frustration, disappointment, sadness etc. If we don’t control these emotions, we are in danger of letting them hijack what we do and say next – how we behave and deal with the situation.

  • So, I would like for you to allow yourself to STOP and BREATHE before you do and say anything. Don’t react to your child’s words, actions, behaviours or requests. Just PAUSE.
  • Next THINK: What am I feeling right now? What does this situation do to me? Accept it as it is. Don’t try to fix your emotions, get rid of them or act on them. Just say, ‘This is how I feel and that is OK – they are my feelings but I don’t want them to control the way I parent.’
  • Challenge your negative THINKING: I am so proud of him, he speaks so well and has learned so quickly. He can speak two languages already. He has adapted so well. It is not my first language so maybe I can learn something from him as he can learn from me.

Once you have checked in with yourself and gained control of your emotions and negative self-talk you are more open to choosing the right response. And more likely to act in a measured, rather than reactive or impulsive, way.

Tip 3. Action.

What to DO:
  • Say thank you: we expect them to learn from us, from our language and we might sometimes (or often) point out how to say what in our language and we feel that is ok. So maybe it is ok for them to do it to us? I have taken this approach and said, ‘Wow, thank you for pointing that out to me, I love to learn something every day’. By responding this way, we role model that it is OK to get it wrong, give it a go, move on and learn from it and not be ashamed. It can strengthen our relationship and they are more open to learning from us when we feel we have to show them how to do something or learn our language. They see it is not about the end result, but the learning process and that we can both learn so much from each other.

Let your bilingual child know about your feelings, boundaries and expectations!

I mentioned above that maybe we can appreciate the learning from our child and welcome it instead of getting wound up. But not if they are doing it in a rude, cheeky or mocking way.

If this is the case you need to set some ‘social rules’ and teach them about respect and boundaries:

  • You can start by saying ‘thank you for pointing that out, I am always happy to learn and to progress – but I don’t like the way you said it because it made me feel  sad/ashamed/angry etc. There is no need to make me feel that way. Another time I would appreciate it if you say it in a kind and supportive way, otherwise I would prefer you don’t point out my mistakes at all’. You can even ask them how it would make them feel if you  (or someone else. friends or a teacher) treated them the same way.
  • This way you have informed the child about your feelings, your boundaries, and your expectations.
  • If they react in a negative way you can use the powerful tool of IGNORING, CLICK here to read more. Ignore the behaviour/words and tone of voice. When the situation has improved, turn your attention to the child
  • Next time, if they are rude again. You simply just say; ‘as I said before – I don’t like the way you are speaking to me’ and then ignore the behaviour and words.
  • If your child corrects you in an uncomfortable way when you are out, remind them about your feelings, boundaries and expectations afterwards and before hand.

So the point of this article is that once we have got over the WHY it affects us when our child corrects us and WHY they do it maybe we find that it is ok after all. That we can accept it, respect it and even learn from it. As long as the child does it out of love and support not to mock or control.


CLICK here for more parenting blogs or contact me about how we can work together at  mette@mettetheilmann.com