Our sages teach, “Say little and do much” (Ethics of Our Fathers, 1:15). And it’s an effective principle in communicating to our kids as well.*
Lecturing and moralizing and talking until we’re blue in the face does not help our kids improve their behavior. A short statement of our beliefs and then silence can do all the teaching we need. Our best lessons are the quietest ones. Just a gesture or one word often suffices to get our point across.
Brevity is the soul of wit – William Shakespeare
We can avoid the long accusatory speeches:
“You really need to stop teasing her about her hair! Just the other day you were upset about the same thing, you would think you would be me more sensitive!”
“You know better than to eat with your fingers. You need to have good manners. that fork is not there for decoration…”
When we want our kids to stop teasing we can just put our finger to our lips. If we want our kids to use their table manners we can just point to their fork. A raised eyebrow is usually very effective in stopping disrespectful behavior.
We can also just use one word. An instinctive and helpful area to use this is in the face of danger. When my kids are roughhousing or playing too close to our Shabbat candles, instead of saying: “Are you guys crazy? That is so dangerous! You can start a fire! You can get badly burned!” I will yell: “Candles! The candles!” Ditto roughhousing near the steps (“The steps!”) and sometimes, just plain roughhousing (“Your sister!”).
I also use this skill as a soft admonishment. For example, when my kids don’t want to share their snack, instead of opting for a drawn-out lecture such as, “Come on guys, you should share your snacks. It is not nice. Don’t you want to be nice to your sister…?” I say firmly, “Chessed” (kindness).” If my kids are fighting, instead of, “Will you stop this squabbling already?!” I’ll say, “Shalom bayit (peace in the home).” The Hebrew phrases do it nice and succinctly, but it works even when the words don’t encapsulate a specific Jewish value.
If my kid always forgets lunch? Point to his lunch bag and say “Lunch.” Forgets to collect his dirty laundry? Point to the pile on the floor and say “Laundry.” Speaks disrespectfully? Raise an eyebrow and say, “Kibbud av va’em” (honoring one’s mother and father). Okay, that’s three words, but you get the idea. Brevity.
Saying little, by using a gesture and one word saves time and energy. And an added bonus: it teaches kids to use the skills of intuition; it helps them think and moves them to act on their own.
Younger kids might think: “She is pointing and saying the candles? What is she talking about? Oh, I am too close to the candles and that is dangerous. I better move away.” Older kids might think, “Chessed? Am I only thinking of myself?”
Children, especially teenagers, like this skill. Brevity is always appreciated, particularly when they know they are acting inappropriately. It also helps us as parents maintain our dignity; it is easier to garner respect from our kids when we avoid lecturing, moralizing and the yelling that goes along with it.
*Borrowed from the book “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.