I grew up with parents who were constantly correcting my grammar. It wasn't ever done in a bad way or to belittle or annoy me. They never used a condescending tone (though my dad's corrections occasionally carried a hint of impatience); they were just helping me build my grammatical toolbox, so to speak.
Yeah, I'll admit it - I got tired of hearing my mom question my use of "snuck" with, "How do you decline 'to sneak'? Sneak, Snack, Snuck?" And my dad STILL gets after me about my use of 'bring' and 'take' (because it apparently still eludes me).
But I don't fault them their efforts. In fact, looking back on it all with the wisdom of hindsight, I appreciate what they tried to do. I enjoy speaking properly. I'm obsessed with plays on words and obscure grammatical humor. Funny enough, Finley is, too. We spend entire car rides talking about sentence structure and rhyming words. This is probably why, at age three, he is already making puns and jokes that are, in my mind, brilliantly funny.
Because my parents were so successful (I think so, anyway) with teaching me how to speak properly, it should come as no surprise that Dana and I use similar techniques with Finley. We don't berate him for using the wrong word or incorrect grammar; instead, we gently suggest the right word when appropriate. Nine times out of ten, he picks up on it, repeating the phrase with the appropriate word. If he misses the cue, we don't press the point - not every moment is a good time for instruction. It is much easier to recognize that than get in a grammatical fight with a three year old.
Turns out this is very much in-line with the Montessori method of teaching/correcting grammar, so we feel doubly justified in keeping this up.
One of the few times when we don't even bother correcting him is when Finely wants to get down from his chair after dinner. Once he started sitting in a chair without a booster seat, we began enforcing the rule that you have to excuse yourself from the table when you are done. During this first lesson, he kept getting "Can I" and "May I" mixed up and started asking, "Man I please be excused?"
He says it in such a cute, tiny voice and we smile every time. It's one of our reminders that he is still just a little boy and we've never had the heart to correct him. I guess every kid needs to have something little quirky phrase, right? That is his.
I suppose it could backfire on us. My brother had a similar situation with my niece. Her favorite color was yellow and she always said it with an "L" at the beginning, instead of a "Y". She didn't switch the letters with any other word starting with a "Y"; just "lellow". So nobody ever bothered correcting her.
At some point in her first week of kindergarten, she came home from school very angry and embarrassed and she let all of us have it! Apparently, when she asked for the lellow crayon during coloring time, someone told her she was saying the word wrong. She asked the teacher if the other child was correct and the teacher confirmed she was. She'd been saying it wrong for three years and nobody bothered to tell her. Twelve years later, we still hear about it every now and again.
This morning, I went into Finley's room to make sure he was doing OK getting ready for school. One of the cats was sitting on his bed. He was bent over her, rubbing his cheek in her fur (she's super soft) and making noises. I approached them to see what they were doing...
Finley: meow meow merow meow
Me: What was that?
Finley: I was speaking to Baby Teeters in Kitty.
Me: Oh, I see.
Finley: Now I'm speaking to you in Man.
I smiled. I kneeled down and gave him a big hug. I kissed him on his forehead. But I didn't correct his grammar. It was, I think, more important to just sit back and enjoy seeing how his little brain works on its own.
Maybe I'll correct it the next time.