Language skills: when should you point out your child’s mistakes?

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You know when your children are trying their best at something, but keep making mistakes? You want to leap in and help them, but to do so just seems a little wrong? Anyone else relate to this?


children, education, development, language skills, communication skills
Izzy, with her face painted like a pink tiger, as she requested. In case you are wondering, I didn’t point out there is no such thing.

I’m feeling this a lot at the moment as Izzy’s language skills develop. Truth is, she uses the most beautiful language and she loves to talk. Wow does she love to talk.

As she hurtles towards her fourth birthday, however, she is struggling a little with the past tense. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there are any major problems.

Even so, typical phrases she uses are:

  • “I putted it on the shelf”
  • “I drinked all of my drink”
  • “I maked it earlier”
  • “I eated all of my food.”

She’s been using such phrases for quite a while now. At first we, as a family, ignored them because she’s young and still learning. She may not be getting the language quite right, but her use of language acknowledges there is a past tense.

Nonetheless, we’ve decided the time has come to gently correct Izzy when she makes mistakes.  The problem I have is that it just feels a bit wrong and mean. She’s developing her own thoughts and ideas so it seems a little harsh to point out there is no such word as “wented”.

When Helen, our seven-year-old, was in Reception class, I remember her teacher telling us parents not to interrupt our kids during certain homework exercises if they made a mistake. She explained the understanding of concepts and generation of thoughts and ideas was more important than getting grammar and spelling 100% accurate. Interupting our kids while they were thinking, she explained, was not helpful.

I guess what we have in mind is that Izzy will be starting school next year. We have no desire to raise a child prodigy and send her to school speaking, reading and writing flawless English. Even so, mistakes over the past tense are consistent and I don’t recall her older sister going through a similar phase.

The again, we all know that making comparisons between children is rarely, if ever, helpful. Kids are beautiful and unique and should be treated thus.

That said, I think the time is right to help Izzy, just a little bit. As much as I don’t want to, a little nudge here and there will hopefully avoid bad habits become concrete before she starts school.

Of course this opens a whole other area of debate. Should children within the English school system be expected to start school at the age of four? Is it too young? I think we’ll leave that discussion for another day!

Even so, I would like to know what you think, dear reader. Izzy is on the cusp of turning four. Should we gently point out mistakes she consistently makes with her language or leave her to figure the past tense out herself? Maybe you have a child of similar age and want to nip such things in the bud before they start school? Please do leave a comment below with your thoughts.

10 thoughts on “Language skills: when should you point out your child’s mistakes?”

  1. Mark Thomas (TheHonestFather)

    This is a tough one. Obviously we want a functioning child, but some things are just too damn cute to correct.

    Evelyn’s turning three in November and her language is excellent I think, but there are some sentences that include “wented”, “drinkeded” and she has often “putted” things somewhere. I think I’ll start correcting her soon, but I’ll find it harder than she will!

    There is one thing I’m not correcting though, and that’s the way she says “glubs” instead of “gloves”. Melts me every time! That one can stay.

    1. Yeah, some things are too cute to correct. I think my mother was in no rush to stop me from talking about Bummbly Bills instead of bumble bees for this very reason!

  2. E makes exactly the same mistakes and we do usually tell her the correct way of talking. She repeats it after us, doesn’t seem to get discouraged. She’s so interested in language that I think she doesn’t mind though some discussions we’ve had about spelling and reading we’ve acknowledged that it is confusing, so she knows it’s ok to find it strange and difficult at times. But she’s taken those conversations on and has repeated them later. If she was struggling with letters and words I might think differently.

    1. Oh yes, I’m not panicking. I think part of it is simply that her sister didn’t go through this stage so the fact Izzy is makes you a little concerned in a knee-jerk way. I guess it’s more about me knowing the correct way to respond than worrying about responding at all. As you say though, Izzy isn’t struggling with letters or words, just the past tense which must be tricky for one so young.

  3. I do my best to never correct my daughter since a teacher advised me to parrot back the right way instead of correcting them so they don’t feel bad about making a mistake, e.g. “I putted it on the shelf” – “You put it on the shelf , thank you”. etc. They’ll eventually pick it up from your example. But sometimes still fold and just jump in with a correction…

    1. Ah yeah, when I said I sometimes correct her, I do generally ‘parrot’ as opposed to wade in mid-conversation. I’m sure she’ll get the hand of the past tense in the end. It’s just one of those parenting scenarios isn’t it, “what should I be doing? There’s no Haynes Manual for this!!”

  4. I totally agree with Simon I always repeat it the way it should be said. Recently I touched upon the subject of starting school at four years old in a post about the girls starting school I personally think it is too young excellent post John

    1. Thanks Nigel. Yeah, I tend to go for the ‘parrot’ approach as well. It’s just Izzy seems so young I don’t want to appear like I’m getting on her back all the time!

  5. Interestingly I heard Word of Mouth on R4 yesterday on this very subject. All of the “experts” said it was best not to correct and let them figure it out in their own time. It was interesting. You might want to listen to it.

  6. We do the same as Simon with the ‘parrot’ approach, which seems to be effective. We need to be more careful with corrections elsewhere so as not to knock confidence as Tilly is a perfectionist and likes to get things right first time.

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