My Well-Chosen Words or Duct Tape

Call me a slow learner. For too many years, I pushed too hard when talking to my kids.

Somehow a brief comment turned into a nagging lecture. Something positive became negative.

Initially I had the best of intentions, as most parents do.

But I felt compelled to make my point not once – but again and again and again, because I care.

Each time displaying less tact until it was completely gone. When my pattern of behavior became predictable, my children stopped listening. They tuned me out. They simply reacted – and not in the most courteous way.

Although I had something worthwhile to say.

In other words, it was time for the duct tape.

I had to stop talking.

Then I watched one of their teachers in action. She was a master of communication – using a minimal number of words, acknowledging individual feelings, sequencing thoughts to action, keeping the message positive and rarely resorting to “no” or “stop.”

Sometimes a hand gesture worked better than words.

First, the simple – yet highly intentional – messages reminded her students of the task at hand. Second, they offered extra direction to those who needed it. Third, they made everyone feel valued.

And along the way, she displayed patience in every breath. A skill she developed with practice. 

A desirable outcome every time – because she was able to connect on their level.

Equally important as the number of words was her even – and predictable – tone. It was never condescending or overly jubilant. By habit and design, she never came off as patronizing.

Not surprisingly, her students respected her. She made them feel safe. And in the process, she formed meaningful and trusting relationships – unlike the loud and abrupt teacher across the hall. The culture there was entirely different. Not toxic – but certainly not nurturing.

I eventually volunteered in her classroom for a closer look. That’s when I felt confident to test the waters at home. Although not as smooth as the teacher, my kids DID respond – and still do today – with more compliance and less defiance.

My “words” mattered. The fewer the better.

Have I become perfect in approach? I can only wish. Old habits die hard. When I stumble and over-react, lose my patience and force too many words, I am painfully reminded.

I can make a bad situation worse in a heartbeat.

That’s right, parents can escalate a childish attitude into an unnecessary argument – or even a rage with their own misplaced emotions. Fight or flight is very real for individuals with past trauma – yet often preventable if not backed into a corner with too many words.

You read that correctly. Preventable.

I’ve done it more than once with my words. I must shoulder part of the blame.

My kids notice too. Dad messed up.

Without question, I damage the trust that I worked so hard to build. At the same time, I fail to model the behavior that I would like to see in them. Children truly “do” as they “see.” We are their mirror, and they will mimic us.

So what’s the advice today?

When you need to respond to your children (or anyone for that matter) – but feel rushed or anxious, PAUSE. Wait a few minutes, perhaps overnight – because once the words leave your mouth, they can’t be taken back.  

Saying nothing is better than saying the wrong thing.

If you feel the need to vent – as most parents do from time to time, save that emotion for another adult. NOT a child. “Get it out” and then do your best to move on without regrets. Forgive. Otherwise, the feelings can actually intensify – making you angrier than before.

This dysfunctional cycle unfortunately is present in many home dealing with trauma.

And only you can break it.  

By dealing with personal frustration first – and focusing on self-care, you will be amazed at the difference. Like me, you will become more effective in communicating with your children. 

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” 

In other words, “Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.” Author unknown.

Never bitter. 

Never sour. 

Just right.  DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s progress in writing a book about raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

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3 thoughts on “My Well-Chosen Words or Duct Tape

  1. Oh, boy, how I wish I could do this 100% of the time! I feel like it’s THAT important. I like what you said about if you notice yourself feeling anxious or rushed you should wait to speak and how it’s better just not to speak at all than say the wrong thing. I personally pray that God helps me notice when I’m having these feelings so I can respond better and I still have to sometimes practically duct tape my own mouth to keep from it. I really value the worth of children. I am thankful that I see them as a gift and that I am continually inspired to rise to the occasion to become a better parent. I think self-care is so important. I know it seems practically impossible sometimes, but I don’t know how anyone can do it without it. I think it would be nice to have someone to help you to be accountable in that area if you struggle with taking time for yourself. Thanks for the article.

  2. Thank you for this article and for your work. My husband and I are both talkers, even in our careers, and it has always been hard on our 2 adopted children when their emotions and actions interfered with all of our lives. We lost our daughter 10 years ago but our adult son struggles with grief, anger, and is self medicating. He doesn’t like to identify himself with labels…not surprising since he has had so many… Hopefully your visual will help us as we continue this journey with him and with our 3 grandsons and son in law our daughter left.

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