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.
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.
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.
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.