Does Your Kid Routinely Say The Wrong Thing At The Wrong Time?

Parenting advice for kids who say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

As a parent, here’s how you can help your child without being the helicopter or super-judgy Mom or Dad

Did your child or teenager just say something that made you cringe? Like you can’t believe they just said that!

Is your kid routinely too loud or too blunt? 

Do they regularly say things that hurt people’s feelings?  

Does your kid seem oblivious to how other people react to them? Like they don’t even notice when people pull away because of their tone, volume or level of speech?

How can your kid miss all of the signs???

Perhaps even harder to deal with, has your kid developed a mindset of “I speak my truth” or “I tell it like it is” despite your caution against always saying everything they think inside?

You know your child has a good heart. 

Even when they are in the middle of these conflicts, you know they are coming from a good place. But, you worry that if they tell their classmates everything they think, it’s going to be a disaster. 

Is it really necessary to point out to their classmate that their project “ has no value”?

How many letters home from their teachers should one parent get for “rude behavior”?

Do they need to be the center of attention by commenting on everything being discussed?

Kids and teenagers with ADHD often don’t read the room. They struggle to self-regulate and self-monitor their behavior. In other words, sometimes, they can be filterless.  

And telling your child to think before they speak does nothing to solve the problem. 

That’s because solving this is not that simple. If your kid could change this they would. The truth is, they need your wise counsel and support to make it stick.

Where to Start  

If your goal is to help your child fit in better with their peers, teachers and the rest of the world, it’s important to both see the world through their eyes, while also offering helpful advice. 

Nagging and becoming angry that your child has said the wrong thing at the wrong time won’t fix the problem.

Kids need concrete solutions; tips they can practice and learn overtime to apply to their lives. They also need your patience and support as they try new solutions on a brain that really just wants to say what they think without the social filter.

Belonging is a critical need we all have. That’s not to say that anyone really needs a circle of 100 friends. But, two or three people in your life that really like and appreciate you for who you are does help kids develop confidence and self-esteem. 

That is true for adults too!

You can help your child with belonging and knowing how to say the right things at the right time by practicing the following 5 tips.

Here are 5 Ways to Help Your Child Stop Saying the Wrong Things At the Wrong Time

#1: Instead of being angry that your child once again said the wrong thing at the wrong time, practice “stepping into someone else’s shoes.”

As tempting as punishment can be for “missteps,” berating and getting angry does not help your child learn how to “be better” in anything in life. Getting better requires practice, positive reinforcement and time.

Kids need to learn the distinction between their “inside” thoughts and their “outside” speech. We all have thoughts that we choose not to say. And of course, that’s fine. But what your child speaks aloud impacts others around them. 

Walking in another person’s shoes is like trying on their feelings for a moment. 

How would it be to hear someone talk to you the way your child did? 

What emotions come up hearing the words your child used and is that what your child intended to bring up?

Talking about this can be hard and embarrassing for kids, especially if in their hearts they never meant to be mean or rude. It’s not meant to be shaming, but it is meant to help them experience what it feels like on the other side of their words.

My suggestion is to find an opportunity for your whole family to work on this. We all get this wrong from time-to-time.  Practice when you are together so you can mirror how words land when they are said, and how it feels to hear such things.  You can practice with role-playing (in-person or even in emails) so it’s not a “real” situation but more of a mock-experience.

This artificial environment prepares kids for the real world and it’s invaluable overtime to learn the difference between when a filter is helpful and when they really need to speak up and say the whole truth to someone.

#2 Teach your kid to become aware of their feelings when they say too much

It’s true for us all that when we’re flooded with sensory information, lights feel brighter, sounds are louder and crowds seem to close in on us. 

Sensory bombardment and overwhelm can make situations feel draining and anxiety-provoking. Do you notice this in your own child? It’s common for kids (and adults) to say too much when they are in sensitive situations that they care deeply about.

The skill here is to help your child start to identify their feelings when they are “about to” say too much. 

Bring to mind a time or two when they know they said the wrong thing, and have them go back in time to what tipped them over the edge. 

Was it the: 

  • environment
  • people
  • sensory experience
  • crowds
  • topic of conversation
  • what happened earlier that day
  • triggers from the past

Help them learn to do some self-diagnosis. What were they feeling? What was going on around them? 

Then, explore the statement:

When I .. (insert experience) then I … (tend to do)…  

#3 Work on Self-Regulation 

Life can be quite complex. Imagine your teen at school for a second. They might be simmering in their own emotions, while bombarded by other people talking, and squinting because of the sunshine, while also struggling to find the keys (that happen to be in their hand) all while walking into a social situation with friends that they care about. 

The science here is that when your child is activated by stress, the arousal levels in their body and brain rise like they’re on an elevator in a high rise. It happens the same for kids as adults, so you likely experience this as well.

When your levels are up, your ability to “self-regulate” or control your emotions is challenged.To manage the stress of this, you want to be able to “self-regulate.” This is a skill that can be learned and it is how you bring your arousal levels down so you can return to an internal homeostasis or feeling of being calm, grounded and in control. 

Here’s how it can be achieved:

  • Take 5 minutes to become more centered, by engaging in a guided meditation or deep breathing
  • Expel some of your energy by doing a short burst of exercise –  jumping jacks, running up stairs or doing push ups for 15-minutes will calm your mind down
  • Take a walk outside or in the woods to experience a different canvas for your senses 
  • Inhale a scent that calms you, breathing deeply and slowly until you reach a calmer state 
  • Engage in Havening which can be CPR for the amygdala. Havening uses electromagnetic waves in the brain by using palm havening = rubbing your palms together, face Havening rubbing the face and arm havening self- soothing by rubbing the motion – the delta waves in the brain signal the amygdala that there is no threat and reduce anxiety and stress. 

Here’s a little video to learn more about Havening:

#4 Learn How to Be a Social Spy

Social Spy is an activity your kid (or you) can do anytime you enter a social situation and realize you are not sure what to do or say next.  

Social Spy is one of my absolute go-tos when someone needs to learn how to manage their social behavior but they’re not sure how to do it.

It looks like this: Scan the situation and watch people’s body language, facial expressions and social cues. If you struggle to manage conversation and spy, then zoom-in on their face and then zoom-out on the room conversation and the bigger picture. 

Finally, listen and observe what they talk about with others, what they read, what clubs they are members of and what sports they play.

Social Spy is proactive. Instead of repairing after saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, you observe BEFORE acting. That reduces the need to deal with an awkward situation later on.

#5 Know Your Audience

Finally, remind your child that they can pause before doing anything. New situations are hard to interpret. Knowing what to say, or not say is a skill we all take time to learn.  Unless you consider the situation and what the situation requires, it’s easy to respond incorrectly.

Before acting, take your lead from observations you have made in Social Spy. For example:

  • Do they like to joke around? 
  • Are there topics they prefer not to talk about? 
  • Are they a small group or do they include lots of people?

When you know your audience, you have the greatest chance of reading the situation correctly. Then, you can adjust what you want to say to the situation, the people who are there, your relationship with them and your comfort level with them.  

Try using Social Spy in your life. And watch my Ted Talk on Social Spy for quick hacks. 

Teaching your child to monitor their inner world before stepping into a sticky situation is a goal we all have. Each of these skills can be worked on whether your kid is 6 or 16. They are life skills that will help in social settings from school, to a job interview to meeting their new in-laws.

Being a parent is not easy, I know. But, helping your child learn how they can change their behavior when they are in the habit of routinely saying the wrong thing at the wrong time will benefit them throughout their life.

Please reach out to me if you have any questions or comments about these tips. I’m happy to help.

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