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Say Little

Say Little

Avoid the lectures. A gesture or one word is often the best way to communicate with kids.


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.

June 30, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 9

(6) Sheila, July 17, 2013 3:10 PM

To a certain point i agree that sometimes It is not worth lecturing and moralizing for a long time, however children need complete explanations , they are not suposed to know everything , or at léast explain to them the first time and then just remaind them. And we dont have to forget that our example is the best way to teach them

(5) Future Mom BH, July 5, 2013 4:02 PM

How To..

Thank you. I know how the kids get anxious when the reprimand gets long. How do you implement such a technique? Also, am I to assume that after the one word reproach doesnt work after a few times, a longer talk is necessary...or is it done in the beginning and just maintained with the word...

(4) Gedaliah Yitzchak Corbett, July 5, 2013 1:40 PM


BS”D I am sorry, but with all due respect, I disagree. Do not our children deserve at least the respect of being communicated to in complete sentences? Have we lost respect of our children so much that they are only worth one or two words? I would not want to teach my children that it is acceptable to communicate with just one or two words. I would not want my children to point to something and say “Water,” when they want their drink. Rather, “Abba, can I have my water, please?”

Anonymous, July 8, 2013 10:02 PM

I disagree

I do not think that the author is in any way implying that we should always speak to our children this way or that kids think that that is the way to always speak- as in your water example. I am sure that the author speaks to her children in a respectful way and with full sentences majority of the time, but I agree with the simple one word, terseness when a child is doing something they should not be or when they need to be reminded of something. Raising five children, I see that it is a lot more affective. Obviously, if a child asks you a question such as "how come I have to share if I don't want to?" you can give them an explanation that consists of more than one word, but that was not the author's point.

(3) Valerie, July 5, 2013 12:10 AM

Approach works well in a classroom

I use this approach in my classroom and it works beautifully! Children don't want to be lectured to when the feedback is negative.

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