The Art of Biting Your Tongue

So I’ll start with some short stories that illustrate a need to bite your tongue sometimes…

Story 1

My 6 year old, 2.5 year old, and I are winding down for bed. Well, I was. They were running in circles on our giant family bed. As they sprint in circles, the littlest one falls over the blankets.

Me: Oops, careful!

She gets up laughing. They run some more. Big brother slams into little sister and they both fall.

Me: Watch out guys, you’re going to get hurt.

Big brother runs and grabs the stuffed animal net and springs off of it. Then sis does it.

Me: Guys, don’t grab that. It will rip out of the wall.

(Guys, stop playing. Guys, stop laughing. Guys, no happiness allowed. No breathing. Quit blinking. That’s what it feels like when I become aware of my nagging.)

Story 2

Big brother is rocking in his chair.

Me: Don’t do that. You could fall.

Brother rocks again. And the chair crashes. He manages to catch himself. But it scared him because he had just fallen the day before doing the same exact thing and hurt himself.

Me: Grrr. I just told you blah blah blah no empathy.

Story 3 (a witnessed event)

Kids are running and playing at the playground. One of the wolf children starts howling and sets off all of the wolf children.

A mother: Be quiet. You are too loud.

Child: But we’re outside! I don’t need to use an inside voice.

Meanwhile another child starts to climb a structure intended for children to climb. He’s on his way up. Then…

Mom: Oh, be careful!

Child hesitates. Becomes a little anxious and comes back down.

And another parent harassing their kid about a common and age-appropriate thing.

Parent: You need to share that. No climbing up the slide. No you can’t eat the dirt. Don’t put your hands in your mouth.

What do all of these have in common?

Micromanaging. Yuck!

I’m severely guilty of it. I have to check myself frequently, which brings us to…

The Art of Biting Your Tongue.

Biting your tongue is a really difficult thing to do. Well, not actually. I bite mine frequently. But figuratively biting your tongue is freaking hard. Especially when patience is depleted and you just wish your kid would stop banging into your arm while you are trying to destroy all of the pigs in Angry Birds. No? That’s just me?

A big one is

be careful.

When we tell our kids to be careful we are making them question their capability and competence. I have a super physically-timid kid. I have watched him go for something that looks dangerous to me, but he looks confident. And then I puke out a be careful and he instantly becomes worried. And won’t try it.

“If my mom, the knower-of-all-things, thinks this is so dangerous that she has to say be careful, then it would be best if I didn’t do it at all. I don’t want to get hurt. I must not be strong enough to do it.” Cue mom tears.

When you catch yourself on the verge of saying be careful, bite your tongue.  Just try to breathe through the urge to say anything. It really serves no purpose. If anything it puts them more at risk because they will question their own judgement, when they were confident in their ability before those words were uttered.

My youngest used to have zero concept of danger so instead of saying be careful, I stayed close. I tried to show her proper ways to do things to keep her safe (like holding the wall or railing when going downstairs instead of just stepping off and falling on her head). And then… I had to trust her (while staying close). My husband is way better at letting them do their thing. I try to follow his lead. But I fail frequently.

By saying be careful, we are holding them back. If you have to say something (you don’t), maybe try, “do you feel comfortable up there?” And then trust their, “yep!”

When you want to say

I told you so…

Don’t. There, that’s easy enough.

But really, it’s so hard not to throw daggers at kids in the form of words. Especially when we are frustrated or actually did tell them so. It doesn’t serve any purpose except to shame them, whether unintentional or not.

When we, as adults, get frustrated, it is up to us to learn the emotional tools to cope with that stress. Pouring it on our children isn’t fair or healthy.

When someone makes a mistake they are usually very aware of it. By shaming and blaming and “I told you so”s and “why didn’t you”s, we are damaging them. I don’t think it’s possible to come out of childhood completely unscathed, but we lessen those scars by focusing on our own emotional growth.

I love the broken plate example. Have you heard it?

Hand someone a plate and have them smash it on the ground.


Now tell the plate you’re sorry.


Did that sorry put the plate back together?


The broken plate ties in with the illustration above. We can’t take back our words. I know there is already enough mom guilt to deal with. This isn’t a command for perfection. It is an invitation to open your heart and mind to something that is potentially different and good. Many of us were raised with shame and understand the heartbreak that comes with it. So when we want to unleash frustration, instead try reaching for empathy and awareness. When we want to reach for a be careful and put our own insecurities and triggers out there, pull them back in and just watch.

What do you think?
If you would like more information on healthy ways to communicate with our kids, I can’t recommend the book Parent Effectiveness Training enough. P.E.T., found here, focuses on the 12 roadblocks to communication, as well as how to overcome them so that we can communicate more clearly with others, as well as model how to communicate in a healthy way with our children.

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