Communicating with Kids in 5 Words or Less

As Jesus showed us in the Temple, getting results doesn’t require a lecture first.

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Posted in , Apr 17, 2018

Talking to a teen

When my children were young, I had a rule of thumb for discipline: Use five words or less. 

It was “Hitters get time out” or “Teeth are for biting food” or “Clean up your own mess.”

This came about because my tendency to lecture got me nowhere (at best). Stating the problem and going directly to consequences, on the other hand, pretty much worked. Not always, but often. 

The key point about “five words or less” was that it prevented me from launching into a rant. I noted that when Jesus cleared out the Temple, even the longest Gospel account has him saying a mere two sentences: “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16). Ah, if only I were able to rein in my tongue that effectively! But alas, I am not actually all that holy. Putting a word count on my response helps limit the damage.

My kids are teens now, but I still find that the less I say, the better. Nowadays parenting often comes down to a few core sentences:

“Wow. Tell me more…” 

“Well THAT stinks!” 

“You do have a problem!”

“Hmmm. Do you want help?”

I suspect the reason fewer words often work better is because there’s less me in there. Being succinct means I’m forced to listen more to my kids’ feelings and react less to their words. I have to listen closely and pause before I speak. That’s a good Christian practice all around. And it’s way easier in five words or less.

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