Depending on context, a somewhat to extremely annoying habit my oldest (9 years old) has is refusal to accept that he is wrong about something. For certain situations, our (wife and I) reaction is usually an internal roll of the eyes and move on, but for others we want to pull our hair out.

Some examples:

Somewhat annoying (happened yesterday):

Me: Your shirt is on backwards.

Him (checks): Oh I know.

Me: You should fix it.

Him: No I prefer it like this (clearly not preferring it like that)

Mildly infuriating:

Him (in the car, on a road we’ve driven down many-a-time): wow we’ve never driven down this road before.

Wife: No we’ve driven down this road many times before. We drove down it last week when we went to X to do Y.

Him: No, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever ridden down this road.

Rage Inducing

Me: You have practice tomorrow. Make sure all your stuff is ready.

Him (standing next to the calendar that shows he has practice tomorrow, distributed weeks ago): I’m pretty sure I don’t have practice tomorrow.

Me: Nope, right there bud. On the calendar.

Him: Did that just get added? I’m pretty sure I don’t have practice tomorrow.

Why? Just why?

Should I address it? Is this punishable? It would feel weird to punish for it. My calm, mature, adult reaction is not to argue even though internally I’m screaming. I simply state the facts, tell him to stop arguing, then he gets all muttery and sour and we move on.

Is there a better approach to this or is that it?

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    I've taught kids like this! Ironically, it sounds like he's always wrong. How often does he get acknowledged for being right? Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 13:30
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    This cannot be an answer, but still... fowllanguagecomics.com/comic/politician
    – WoJ
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 17:21
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    Choose the hills to die on. A shirt on backwards is something to make fun on WITH the child... Moreover, you never know what's the last dress trend among niners...
    – Paolo
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 22:22
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    @LukeSawczak, we try and give praise where praise is due and we make it known when we were wrong about something. Maybe a little more begrudgingly than we should - which we should work on. Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 23:23
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    @SomeShinyObject You and I seem to have a difference of opinion on what makes an excellent politician!!
    – corsiKa
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 4:52

10 Answers 10


Man, I feel for you. My son is the same age and does the same exact kind of thing.

You're not a control freak. You're a dad who cares about how his son interacts with the world. You see him developing habits that seem harmful for his future. In comments, you mentioned that you used to do the same thing. You probably can think of situations where that ended up being a detriment to you personally, and you want better than that for him. I have worked with people who wouldn't accept that they were wrong. People died because of it.

When my son, who is too smart for his own good, continues to willfully ignore the very obvious truth in front of him, I tell him to say something really simple like "Oops, I made a mistake." Everyone is wrong sometimes! Then I drop it, because it takes two to argue.

The good news is that you grew out of it, so he probably will too. You are responding to him patiently, even though you don't feel like it. You're doing a good job.

  • This is a good answer and probably one of the only uplifting ones. Thanks for understanding the situation without jumping to conclusions. Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 22:02
  • I know this answer is two years old, but does he? Does he say "Oops, I made a mistake."?
    – Ivana
    Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 20:39
  • @Ivana Comments aren't for chat, but I will just say that he does sometimes. Also, we found out that he's on the spectrum, so he's going to develop differently.
    – Valkor
    Commented May 18, 2022 at 7:28

It seems to me that there are really two things here:

  1. How do you feel about the situation?
  2. How to address the situation?

While I'd agree that one's emotional state is one's own, and one's outward actions are the more important aspect, I am puzzled by the descriptions of your own emotional states. You describe progressively more intense degrees of anger, and while I understand that people get angry for a variety of things and it's not fair to dismiss their anger as illegitimate, it does seem to me that you would be well-served by framing your situation at least in part with respect to exploring how to avoid the feelings of anger altogether.

Taking your example in order, A through C:

A. Why should it concern you at all whether the shirt is on backwards or not? It's well and good to point out the discrepancy, in case the child did it accidentally. But if they claim to have put the shirt on backwards intentionally, I don't see the harm in allowing them to do so, never mind do I see any reason to feel any anger about the situation (however slight).

If there is any negative consequence to be had for wearing a shirt backwards (for example, perhaps the child's peers will laugh at him), the child will find that out soon enough. Either they will care about it or they will not, and they will take that into account in the future. This doesn't seem like something a parent needs to be concerned about. The chances that the child would ever actually be harmed by wearing their shirt backwards seems pretty remote to me.

B. Why should the child's failure to remember a road induce anger? Human memory is fallible. If the child claims to not remember the road, it seems entirely possible that they in fact do not. It seems to me that an appropriate response would be simply to explain to the child that it's not unusual for a person to forget something, or even to "remember" something that didn't happen. I.e. accept their claim as valid, and then help them understand why they may still be incorrect about their conclusion, in spite of their strongly-held belief. Keeping in mind that the goal here is not to change their mind, but rather to give them the tools necessary for them to be able change their mind on their own, eventually, and to accept that it is possible for their own beliefs to sometimes conflict with reality.

(Personal anecdote: as a child, I very frequently had a lot of trouble remembering roads. They all looked the same to me. Highways especially, but often other types of roads. Even if I recognized a particular road as part of a particular route, I would often be unable to recognize which direction on the road we were traveling. Fact is, while I'm much better at navigating today, I will admit that many roads, especially limited-access highways, still look pretty much the same to me. It's only by virtue of being involved in the navigation that I'm able to recognize where I actually am, based on where I've been and what direction I'm traveling. I'm sure there are lots of roads where if I were to be dropped down in the middle of it, I couldn't tell you which road I was on.)

C. This situation seems the closest to one that I could understand why it might induce anger. But only if I make the assumption that the child is not genuinely mistaken about the facts, but instead is just acting like they are in order to achieve some other purpose (such as invoking anger). It seems to me that the saying "never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence" applies. Whatever goal the child may or may not have in mind, you can remain in control of that outcome. It's possible in that situation to give the child the benefit of the doubt with respect to what they believe, to simply state the facts, ask the child why they feel that the facts are not as you claim, and have a reasoned, rational discussion about that.

The fact is, believing something to be true is no way to guide one's actions. If all the child can say is that they believe that there's no practice, that's not a reason and should not be legitimized. Instead, you can simply point out that the calendar is an objective and observable fact that you will be basing your actions on (e.g. taking the child to practice). If the child has some other objective, observable fact that conflicts, then you can have a discussion about which facts seem more reliable. Otherwise, you can make it clear you'll act only on the facts that are known, not on some arbitrarily held belief.

Ultimately, you (as the parent) can make the decision as to whether practice will be attended or not. If you arrive and find out that your facts were in error, you can calmly recognize and apologize for misunderstanding. If your child's facts were in error, you can ask them to do the same (keeping in mind that it's not possible to force a sincere apology out of someone).

Bottom line: I really am not seeing how anger comes into any of these situations. Part of the solution, it seems to me, would be to do some introspection to consider whether an angry response really is warranted, and if you agree that it's not, investigate ways to take your anger response into your own hands, eliminating it from these kinds of situations.

As for how to address each situation, I hope that the suggestions called out in each of the examples above are useful. As a more general rule, it's been my experience as a parent that staying focused on obligations, outcomes, and consequences is the most productive. That is, provide the children with clearly-stated non-arbitrary obligations (i.e. there should be a rational, clearly-stated justification for any obligation), expected outcomes (i.e. what behavior will satisfy the obligation), and consequences for failing to meet the obligation. There's no reason for anger to play a part in any of that.

Of course, it's always important to use positive reinforcement, encouraging the behaviors you want to see. This is ideal. But when negative reinforcement is needed, it typically can and should be dealt with without an angry response, in an objective and fair way. In none of the examples that you cited do I see a reason to be angry about the situation, and only in the third does it even seem like there's any potential reason to act contrary to the child's own intent (and even then, it would simply be a matter of "well, get in the car, we're going to practice"…there's no punishment per se necessary).

(Aside: the above notwithstanding, I recognize that an angry response — i.e. outward expression of anger — can in fact be an effective tool for discipline. And whether or not it's useful or desirable, it does happen from time to time. But it's my opinion that it should be avoided as much as possible. Acting out of anger often leads to the wrong actions, and habitually responding to conflict angrily then teaches that to the child as the response, which makes it harder for them to deal with conflict in productive ways.)
  • This is all internal frustration. Outwardly, we tend to keep our cool. The individual situations aside, there is a larger issue going on here. If you look at my comment on DXH's answer, I mentioned I was the same exact way when I was a child and even into adulthood. Not quite sure when it clicked to stop doing it but it did click. Situations A and B are indeed frustrating but when action needs to be taken on both our parts like in situation C, it does get extremely frustrating. Positive reinforcement is good and perhaps we could get better about recognizing certain behaviors. Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 23:38
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    "This is all internal frustration. Outwardly, we tend to keep our cool" -- sure, I understand that. That's why I was clear about separating the two aspects. My point is that it may be helpful to you for you to explore strategies so that you don't even feel frustration in the first place. As I noted, your emotions are your own and far be it from me to say that they are wrong per se. But these scenarios you describe are not ones that would frustrate me, so I assure you that there are ways to view them that should not lead to frustration. It's all about choosing your perspective. Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 23:42
  • I think you gave great advice Peter. I do realize some people have different buttons that can be pushed. I think because I used to be like that - blatant denial all the time to save face and it took so long for me to recognize - I am more tweaked by it. Great first answer by the way. Very thorough. Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 0:58
  • I understand the frustration. If those three examples happened by themselves as rare events, they wouldn't be a big deal emotionally (and by the way, I was the kid who never quite knew where he was on car rides; no sense of direction unless I'm driving :)). But dealing with someone who is never wrong can be frustrating. It's hard to correct someone who is "never" wrong.
    – bob
    Commented Sep 8, 2020 at 18:20
  • @SomeShinyObject This is all internal frustration. Outwardly, we tend to keep our cool. Not likely. Communication is much more than words. Your tone, your body language, even your silence can communicate your frustration without you knowing it. Commented Sep 8, 2020 at 21:31

You say that you find it annoying that he won’t accept that he is wrong, but it sounds equally to me like annoyance that he won’t accept that you are right. In any case, it sounds like being right is important in your household.

If being right is a high-status thing in your house, then being wrong must be a low-status thing, so… of course he’s reluctant to admit he is wrong! You’re an adult, you have many more years of schooling and experience, so naturally you are going to be right more often than he is. The problem is that it seems to a competition, and you seem to want him to acknowledge your win – and his inferiority – every time. If he doesn’t, you keep pushing. For example, it was useful and helpful to him to point out his shirt was on inside out; as a dad you want to protect him from the hypothetical mockery of strangers. However, telling him he should fix it seems like a blatant play for more “rightness” points. Unless he’s mentally challenged – which you didn’t mention – and couldn’t have figured that out on his own, it wasn’t helpful.

This is your son: you should be trying to teach him to rely on himself, to respect himself, to feel good about his choices, to make healthy decisions for himself. You’re not supposed to be scoring points off him. It must feel to him like you’re constantly rubbing his nose in his inferiority; no wonder he’s trying to push back. Feeling bad, he’s found a way to get some power back by denying you your "victories," but I doubt this makes him feel any better.

My first suggestion is that you and your wife re-define winning. In the parent game, “winning” is raising a kid who is stronger than you, wiser than you, more resilient than you, more well-adjusted than you, and better at relationships than you. Every time your kid is right about something, or tells you something you didn’t know, or masters a skill you don’t have, you want to be happy!

My second suggestion is that you completely de-associate being right from winning and being wrong from losing, thus giving him a safe space to be wrong, so he doesn’t feel impelled to protect himself by denying reality. Some ways to do this:

  • Try never to say, “I told you so,” when he doesn’t take your advice and something goes wrong. You want him to feel safe to come to you when he has a problem. Instead (e.g., for blisters when he didn’t wear the shoes you suggested) say, “Ouch. That sounds unpleasant!” Or (when he lost his new glove after bringing it to school after you told him not to), “Oh, no! That’s too bad!” If you really, really want to (occasionally!) try to get him to acknowledge his mistake, say, “Do you think you might do something different next time?”
  • Give him a chance to change his mind when he comes up with a wrong answer. “Huh. I thought you had practice. Can you check the calendar for me?”
  • Give him an excuse for a wrong answer that lets him own up to it. “Well, I’ve driven you down this road a bunch of times. I wonder If it looks different to you because [you’re taller | they cut down that big tree | you’re not looking at the iPad].”
  • Give praise for good answers that are wrong. For example, when my daughter was nine and I was reading something to her, we came across the word defenestrate, and I asked her if she knew what it meant. After thinking about it, she said, “To take a person’s swamps away?” (She knew, because we lived near Fenway, that “fen” meant swamp.) I cracked up, and told her it was an awesome answer – wrong, but awesome. The two of us were grinning at each other like idiots. (She also liked the real answer BTW.)
  • Be proud of him when he’s right and you’re wrong. “Whoa, you were right! We did see this movie before!” Warm fuzzies like this will heal the hurt, as well as demonstrate how people who love each other acknowledge that the other person was right.
  • Notice his accomplishments! This is a big one. The first time he gets his stuff ready without you asking, say. “Hey, bud! Nice job! You’re getting better at this.” The next time, a firm nod, showing respect, telling him you noticed.
  • Following the noticing accomplishments: give him more responsibility. This shows you respect him. If he feels he’s respected by you, he won’t feel impelled to deny it when you are right and he is wrong.

He’s nine, which means you only have a few years to turn this around before he hits puberty, when kids’ real rebellion starts. If he hasn’t learned to trust you again before that, and to accept and admit that you really do know much more than he does, so that he can make good choices and be safe, you’re going to have a flaming disaster.

Good luck!

  • There is no point card (maybe not consciously - maybe subconsciously). Being casually right/wrong is one thing, but blatant denial is another. When the evidence presents itself and excuse or outright denial is immediately made, you have to admit you would get a little frustrated also. Like I stated in the question, for some situations (shirt and road), we typically just move on and don't discuss it further. Further conversation will turn into an argument and it's not worth it for either of us. I do like all of your advice but I feel like your making some undue assumptions about our household. Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 23:45
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    You're right, I would be frustrated, and I am making assumptions. It's sounds like they are off more than a bit! It seemed to me that the most likely reason he was into blatant denial was the right/wrong interaction had started to feel like a game he was losing, and being right has a lot of value in your house. So since he doesn't have the tools to win, and he's pretty miserable losing, he's decided to cheat. I'm guessing it's not making him feel any better, but the power to make you unhappy, too, is better than no power at all. It's sort of cutting off his nose to spite his face. Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 0:45
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    So now I am thinking about the kid whose brain runs a mile a minute but moves his mouth even faster... It's a different kid than I was picturing before. Maybe this one doesn't care enough about being wrong (his brain has already moved on to the next thing?), and he is irritated that you do? In which case, I would find that very frustrating, and I would say, talk to him and ask him what's going on. Say that your family needs a consensus reality to function properly; flouting it to prove a point, or because he can't be bothered, stresses your family's cohesion and makes everyone unhappy. Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 2:23
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    Okay. Since I do like this answer, but it doesn't seem to fit your kid, I just added a new answer that might work better for you. Commented Sep 8, 2020 at 13:47
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    There are some good insights here, But the final warning (He’s nine, which means you only have a few years to turn this around ... you’re going to have a flaming disaster.) looks bad to me. It is only going to increase expectations and frustration. Commented Sep 8, 2020 at 21:41

My kid is almost nine, and we have occasional conversations like this too. I suspect the reason they're so irritating is that we don't feel like a nine-year-old has any right to "having the last word." But, what works for me is to allow him the consequence that comes from being right: if he's right and I'm wrong, I acknowledge it; if he's wrong (and likely knows it) but must have the last word anyway, then his word is bond.

Situation A: Me: "Your shirt is on backwards." Him: "I know." [end of discussion He'll eventually fix it. Or not. Who cares, right?]

Situation B: We have this exact discussion, and frequently! I usually say something like "next time, you should totally drive, then you'll remember it better." Which will kind of be true, someday. He probably really doesn't remember any of it, from the back seat especially.

Situation C: Ah, my favorite. Him: "I'm pretty sure I don't have practice tomorrow." Me: "Oh, great, one less thing for me to drive you to." This is great fun, and a win-win growth opportunity. Because now, he's suddenly responsible for what came out of his mouth. If he sticks to his guns and misses practice, you can read him the nastygram that Coach emails you. If he realizes the game is up, he can still save face and pack his things without a quarrel.

I feel like we're already outgrowing some of these arguments, partly because it's probably just a phase, and partly because he's actually started to take responsibility for what comes out of his mouth.

  • This is all really great advice. Thank you! Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 22:10

My nine year old was like you describe until relatively recently. In the past year or so, he's made significant strides; he'll now often say "You're right" in that matter of fact tone that means he gives his seal of approval to your statement.

I think that this is something that happens for most children; they mature out of having to be always right, at least to some extent (though obviously not everyone, sigh). Some don't do it nearly so quickly as others, though, and helping this along is possible for the parents.

We did it by acting very similarly to how you describe, actually. Gentle, matter of fact corrections, and when he argues, being patient and simply saying "well, that's not how I see it" or similar - making it clear we know the right answer. He knew, inside, that he was wrong, and as he saw over time that the consequences of being wrong weren't significant, he began to be open to admitting it.

I think that's ultimately the key: make it not a big deal to be wrong. Don't let him tie up his self worth in being right; be very matter of fact and chill about it, and don't make a big deal out of it even if he (disingenuously) argues - just move on. And, as others have suggested, model it yourself - make a point of admitting you're wrong very clearly, even for very small things.

I love when I talk to my kids about games we play together, because it gives a great opportunity for me to model this behavior. They, as most kids do, have amazing memories for the games we play. I'll suggest a card does this or that, and they'll immediately correct me. This happens probably ten times a day - and each time is a chance for me to model admitting being wrong about something trivial.

Just as important, though, is when my wife and I disagree on something. We try to make a point of ending our disagreements in front of the kids, and handling as much as is possible (and wouldn't make the kids uncomfortable, such as if we disagree about a kid's behavior) in front of them. This means that they get to see me tell my wife that she's right, or the reverse; and we always try to do it in a positive, supportive way.


This is about control.

By telling your son he's wrong and you're not, you're telling him: I'm in control here, you're not. It is this message he is refusing to accept. You're exerting your authority. He wants some authority over his own life.

So put him in control, as Tanaya writes. I'd be even less confrontational about it:

Situation A: Me: "You may want to check your shirt before you go out."

Situation B: I might ask why he thinks he's never been on this road before.

Situation C: Him: "I'm pretty sure I don't have practice tomorrow." Me: "Better double-check. I thought I'd have to drive you, it's marked on the calendar. Does that mean I have a free afternoon?"


All of these interactions seem like you are trying to boss or embarrass him, which is something kids tend to dislike.

Situation A with the shirt: why does it matter to you that his shirt is on backward? Unless it is wearing shorts and flip flops during a blizzard, I tend to just shrug and say something like "looks uncomfortable. Fix it if you want." Then I drop it. That gives the kid some control over the situation and really it doesn't impact me at all if my kid is uncomfortable because they are wearing something incorrectly.

Situation B with the road: Maybe he is embarrassed and trying to save face? This sounds like the kind of thing where someone would be embarrassed and refuse to admit they made a mistake. Rather than saying "you are wrong", perhaps musing "oh I really thought you were with me last week. I remember seeing that funny looking mailbox." Give him room to "remember" being on the road without embarrassing him.

Situation C: I don't see why this is enraging. That seems like an overreaction, and perhaps that is what is driving some of this. Why not just ask him, "oh can you look at the calendar and see when your next practice is so that I can plan my day?" Rather than make it a negative interaction, make it a positive one. Another benefit of this is that he will get practice reading his schedule. It paves the way for independence.

But also, 9 is still really young. Let him have some room to make mistakes without embarrassing him.


For the kid whose brain is going a mile a minute and his mouth moving even faster: Use your sense of humor. With a side of letting go of wanting him to acknowledge that you are right.

“Your shirt is on backwards.”

“Huh? Oh, I know.”

“Trying to start a trend at school or keep the Faerie away?” (Technically, it’s turning your clothes inside out that keeps the Faerie away – but if he points this out to you, then you get to say, “Hey, you’re right!” in a pleased voice.)


"No, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve been down this road."

“That’s right! Now that I think of it, it was your identical Martian twin in the car the last dozen times! He told us that that house with the two garages looks just like his buddy Joe’s on the edge of the Cassini crater.”


“I’m pretty sure I don’t have practice tomorrow.”

“Then Mr. <your nextdoor neighbor’s name> must be sneaking into the house again, because someone wrote “Soccer practice!” in big red letters on the calendar for tomorrow.”

This re-iterates the information you gave him, which he just denied; does so without insisting that he acknowledge he was wrong; and hopefully was clever and funny enough to snatch his attention back to the matter, if his brain had already moved on.

BTW, be prepared for him doing something like turning both shirt and pants inside out in response to a sense-of-humor answer like the one above, just to see what you'll do. You might want to have an idea ahead of time where your line is in the <encouraging-originality-is-good...letting-him-hurt-himself-is-bad> spectrum.

  • Humour? Sounds more like sarcasm. Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 12:23
  • Be careful with sarcasm. It often comes across as belittling, especially in a parent - child power dynamic.
    – Valkor
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 19:08
  • It hadn't occurred to me when I was writing them, but, yes, if you said those things in a sneering voice, I'm sure that they would come out pretty nasty. I don't think nasty was what SomeShinyObject was looking for, however; and if you say the first one in a curious voice, the second one with an air of just having figured something out, and the third one as though puzzled, the child will laugh at the absurdity. A smart or mischievous child will then try to top you in absurdity. Which is why I added the warning about turning the clothes inside out, something my kid might have done. Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 19:19
  • And yes, this would not work with a kid who has no sense of humor, or who always takes things literally. Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 19:24
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    Nor, I suppose, if the parent is generally mean to the child, so that the child has come to expect meanness. In that case, instead of light-hearted absurdity, the child will, indeed, probably hear sarcasm. Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 19:36

First, thank you all for the other answers. I enjoyed them and learned from them.

Second, I have a suggestion for Case C and perhaps many others: Let the person be right!

I had fun with the, "Oh, good, now I don't have to drive" type of responses, but I'm thinking of something that isn't a "let them suffer the consequences" kind of passive-aggressive (it sort of seems to me) approach. (I don't consider the T-shirt issue, where they expressed a preference, in that category.)

The formula is, "Yes, and..." This comes from improv comedy, Argentine tango, and talking to a person with dementia -- always make your partner right. Nothing good comes from fighting with them over what is "really right." Instead, we can use a sort of verbal kung fu that acknowledges their view of reality, while possibly steering it to ours.


Him: Did that just get added? I’m pretty sure I don’t have practice tomorrow.

You: [Take a beat. Relax your throat.] Yes, I add all those events when the email comes from school each month. But I could have put it down wrong. Do you want to confirm that you have practice tomorrow?

Notice, too, how subtle changes in timing and intonation can deliver or emphasize a message without it being a direct confrontation. This latter idea comes from NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming).

Good wishes for raising a bright, appropriately assertive person.


I am a bachelor approaching 60. Never been a father. Only an uncle. In my 20s and 30s I was obsessed with giving my nieces advice which they didn't want. The best you can do, I think, is to be a good role model, and "cut them some slack" in which to explore their own personalities.

The 1st and 3rd examples sound to me like nagging, which I hated when I was young. The 2nd is fair comment from your wife.

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