If you counted all the words you said to your child today, how many of them were really necessary? Which words acknowledged a problem? Comforted a worry? Encouraged effort? Provided useful direction? How many restated a failure that could not be undone? Threatened a consequence you won’t deliver? Pointed out the unhelpful obvious? Or created shame and self-doubt?

If you are like most parents (myself included) every day probably results in a tally in both columns—helpful and useless (or even hurtful).  

Our intentions are good. That long lecture about how your brother is going to be your best friend someday surely sinks in at some point, and will change toy-destroying enemies into loving comrades, right? And a review of how your daughter really needs to focus more on her homework habits if she ever wants to get into college should motivate her to start writing in that planner, correct?

Your child would tell you, No. Not right. Not helpful. Not encouraging. Not the way to raise my confidence.

So how to do you stick with what needs to be said? How do you make sure most of your words lead, strengthen, effectively instruct, and build your child's confidence in problem solving?

Three Powerful Questions

In my research on attention disorders, I discovered three powerful questions (with minor differences in versions) designed to help adults manage their impulse to blurt out whatever comes to mind:

Does it need to be said?

Does it need to be said right now?

Does it need to be said by me?


What perfect questions to consider when you are talking to anyone, but especially your child!

Take this scenario

Your child bombs an assignment that you knew would take longer to finish than he expected and you are about to launch into your prized lecture on time management.

But what if you asked yourself these questions first?


Does it need to be said? Nope. The damage is done and the chance for time management on this project has passed.

Does it need to be said right now? Nope again. The next time he has a long assignment to work on would be a better time to help build those time management skills.

Does it need to be said by me? Perhaps. Later. Like when your child is preparing for his next long assignment. And in the spirit of problem solving and building the skill of prioritizing tasks.


Other common things parents say that clutter up our kids’ ability to tune in to us:

"Don't spill that"

"I told you so"

"You are being ridiculous"

"How many times have I told you…"


What works better?

Pause before you speak

Ask yourself those three questions

Say nothing, offer a hug, give some space, give yourself some space


Do Better

For the next two days, pay attention to what you say to your child. Examine how many times you tell your child things that really are not helpful. Watch your child avoid eye contact and slump in posture when you lecture about something they can no longer fix like a bad paper or missed free throw shot.


Feel the energy in your home change when you make this one, small (but difficult) tweak to your parenting style. See how much your child relaxes when you don’t criticize a mistake. Be amazed at how much more open your child is to listening to your problem-solving ideas when you save it for a time when those ideas actually help. Keep noticing and trying and tweaking until this new parenting behavior takes hold.


Does this need to be said to all parents?

“Yes!” says your kid!


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