Teaching Kids to Think Before Speaking

Speaking before thinking can cause a lot more than just embarrassment for you and your child. It leads to hurt feelings, fights and sometimes even more serious consequences. Thinking before speaking is crucial to interpersonal relationships at school, work, home, and elsewhere.

So how do you teach kids to engage their brain before their mouths – or in today’s technology driven world, their fingers too? Here are some ways you can emphasize appropriate communication in your kids.

Positive Time-Outs

When you hear the term “time-out,” you probably associate it with punishment. But what we’re suggesting is a positive time-out; a short break several times a day to teach your brain to stop and refocus.  It works like this:

  • Choose a pleasant noise, such as a little bell or nice music. We’re using a bell for this example.
  • At your predetermined intervals throughout the day (maybe 3 to 6 times per day), ring the bell.
  • When this bell sounds, everyone who hears it must stop whatever they are doing or saying.
  • They must be silent and take deep breaths. You can pray, meditate, or simply work on re-focusing during this time.
  • After 3 to 5 minutes, everyone can resume their activities.

The point of this exercise is to teach the brain to stop, refocus, and put things in perspective. The goal is to make it habitual.

Ask Why

If you hear your child say something inappropriate or gossip-y, immediately address it. Ask them why they said it; what did they get out of being snarky or inappropriate. Then ask them how it would make them feel if someone said the same thing about them. Having to engage in this somewhat lengthy exercise makes them think…and will hopefully make them think before doing it again.

Learning to ask yourself, “Why do I want to say this?” before actually saying it may save many a relationship in the future.

Consider Consequences

Help them understand the potential consequences of what they want to communicate. If it seems good – “I’ll make people laugh!” – then ask your child to pause and consider if the consequences are all good. For example, they may make people laugh with their comment, but who might they hurt in the process? While no one can predict everything and some people get offended at the oddest things, at least teach them to do the best they can in this respect.


Every day you can find examples of what can happen when someone is embarrassed and hurt by thoughtless words and actions. From something as small as a crying child to the more tragic examples of teens committing suicide because they were so humiliated by the words of their peers.

Oftentimes children say things that are probably not intended to be really mean; they are just thoughtless. But thoughtlessness could cost someone his or her life. Explain this in age-appropriate terms and use examples to help them understand that they simply need to take a few seconds to think before they speak.


  1. How can I achive this when I only see my 9 year old once a fortnight?

    • Kit Singleton says:

      Hi Rebecca,

      Thanks for bringing this up. As a non-custodial (step) parent, I found myself in a similar situation. There just wasn’t enough time during a visit to work in all the things that were important. The key is to prioritize and work things in when you can, especially when a topic comes up. As a teacher, we called these short periods “teachable moments.”

      Depending on how much time you have together, whether it’s a few hours or a few days, it’s important to make the most of your time. This means that you may want to take some of the ideas and modify them so they fit with your time frames. Here are a couple of things you may want to do if you are short on time.

      1. Make a colorful reminder similar to the image above. Showcase the poster in a place (at his/her eye level) that your child can easily see. For example you may want to “hang” the homemade poster on the refrigerator door, in the child’s room, or by the television.

      2. If you don’t have time to do the “time-out” exercise mentioned, shorten the time from 5 minutes to a time that is appropriate for your situation. You may also want to cut down on the number of times you do the exercise during a visit. An alternative to this may be to have the child to take a deep breath and mentally answer the THINK questions in their heads. The purpose here is to give them enough time to decide if it was really a good idea to make that comment or statement.

      If the time with your child is very limited, as in my case with weekend visitation, remember that you can only do so much. At the same time, you need to do what you can and model as much as possible. If you want your child to stop and think, then you will need to show him/her how by doing it yourself.

      Hope these ideas help.


  2. Kit has offered some good advice. I also wanted to mention that it’s important to be consistent. Even though you have limited time with your child, being consistent when you are together will ensure they always know what is expected of them. Having clear rules and as Kit mentioned, them seeing you modeling those rules, will hopefully encourage your child to continue the appropriate behavior even when you aren’t around.