How To Teach An Outspoken Child To Show Respect (Without Dimming Their Light)

Telling a child to 'think before speaking' simply isn't enough.

Mother trying to teach her daughter how to appropriately interject in conversations Alena Ozerova,  Anastasiia Makarevich | Canva 

Your child or teenager just said something so cringey you can’t believe they said it! Sometimes a kid can be too loud or too blunt and say things that hurt people’s feelings.

Kids can seem oblivious to how other people react to their words when viewed from an adult's perspective. Kids often haven't developed the ability to notice when people pull away because of their tone, volume or level of speech.


As parents, we are blown away by how a kid can miss all of the signs. You know your child has a good heart, but they might have adopted a mindset of “I speak my truth” or “I tell it like it is” despite your caution against always saying everything they think.

Even when they are in the middle of these conflicts, you know they are coming from a good place. But, you worry 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 their project has no value? Do they realize it makes them the center of attention when they comment on everything being discussed?


Kids and teenagers often don’t have the skills to read the room. They struggle to self-regulate and self-monitor their behavior. In other words, sometimes, they can be filterless. Unfortunately, children don't come pre-loaded with a social filter app, and there is not one available for download.

Telling your child to think before they speak does not always solve the problem because solving this is not so simple. If your kid could change on their own, 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 offering helpful advice. Nagging and becoming angry your child has said the wrong thing at the wrong time won’t fix the problem.

Kids need concrete solutions, they need 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 wants to say what they think without using a social filter.


A sense of belonging is a critical need we all have. That’s not to say anyone needs a circle of 100 friends, but two or three people in your life who genuinely like and appreciate you for who you are helps kids develop confidence and self-esteem. That is true for adults too!

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

RELATED: 8 Ways To 'Read The Room' When You're Feeling Socially Awkward

Heres how to help teach an outspoken child tact.

1. Ask them to practice stepping into someone else's shoes

Instead of being angry your child said the wrong thing at the wrong time, gently help them understand what happened around them and within others when they said what they did. 


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

Kids need to learn the distinction between their inner thoughts and their outer speech. We all have thoughts we choose not to say. 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. Ask your child how would it be to hear someone talk to them the same way? What emotions come up hearing the words they used and is that what your child intended to bring up?

Talking about this can be hard and embarrassing for kids, especially if 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 own feelings when they say too much

When we’re flooded with sensory information, lights feel brighter, sounds are louder, and crowds seem to close in on us.

Sensory bombardment and being overwhelmed 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 they care deeply about.


The skill here is to help your child identify their feelings when they are about to say too much. Bring to mind a time or two when they knew 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, or 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)…

RELATED: 5 Ways To Recalibrate Your Senses When You're Feeling Overwhelmed & Overstimulated


3. Work on self-regulation

Life can be quite complex. Imagine your teen at school for a moment. They might be simmering in their emotions while getting bombarded by other people talking. They might also be squinting because of the sunshine while also struggling to find the keys (that happen to be in their hand) and walking into a social situation with friends 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 learned skill, and it is how you bring your arousal levels down and return to an internal homeostasis, a feeling of being calm, grounded, and in control.

Here’s how it can be achieved.


First, take 5 minutes to become more centered by engaging in a guided meditation or deep breathing. Then, 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. Or, you can take a walk outside or in the woods to experience a different canvas for your senses. Inhaling a scent that calms you, breathing deeply and slowly, can help you reach a calmer state of mind.

Another method is to engage in Havening, which can be though of as CPR for the amygdala. Havening uses electromagnetic waves in the brain to reduce anxiety and stress.Some examples are: Palm havening or rubbing your palms together, face havening, which is rubbing the face, and arm havening, a rubbing of the arms. The self-soothing of havening occurs from the rubbing motion. the motion causes the delta waves in the brain to signal the amygdala there is no threat and to reduce anxiety and stress.

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's 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 a proactive exercise. Instead of repairing after saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, you observe BEFORE acting. This reduces the need to deal with an awkward situation later on.

RELATED: 4 Big Mistakes You Make When Reading Someone's Body Language

5. Talk about how to know your audience

Finally, remind your child 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.

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. Yet, 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.

RELATED: Why Kids Who 'Talk Back' Grow Up To Be Better Adults


Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them.