The Most Effective Way to Stop Rude Behavior in Kids

February 16, 2012

Problems do not go away. They must be worked through or else they remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of the spirit.

-Scott Peck

The heart of the righteous man rehearses his answer, but the mouth of the wicked blurts out evil things.


This past January during Yeshiva week we opted for the staycation vacation thing.  I knew it was going to be tough but I also knew we would manage. We had a great time doing things in and around Cleveland. All was going pretty well – except that the phrase “shut up” was being thrown around a lot.

My husband and I have very little patience for this type of rudeness. Me, because, really, should a parent educator’s kids be talking that way? What if someone hears them?

My husband can’t stand it because he truly values polite speech.

We spent a few days trying to stop the breach in etiquette, like this:

“We don’t say ‘shut up’ in this house!”

“‘Shut up’ is not a nice term!”

“Find another way to talk to your brother/sister!”

It was beginning to get out of hand. Nothing was helping. That is when we usually decide to have a brainstorming session with our kids.

Brainstorming potential solutions to our everyday problems is something our family tries to do often. Sometimes it is just a short, “We have guests coming for Shabbat and I am going to need some help – what is everyone available to do?” Other times it can be a longer process, lasting anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes.

It is a great way to invite kids to think about how they can help the family stay happy and free of conflict. They start to look at themselves as an integral part of the family unit. They view themselves as problem solvers instead of troublemakers.

The same thing happens to me and my husband: we have started to view our kids as partners in figuring out what works best for our family. Not only that, we have learned to respect our kids’ feelings and we schep lots of nachat, take great pride, when they come up with solutions that work.

This is how this brainstorming session started:

“Guys, I don’t like it when you use that term and neither does Daddy. We feel like it falls into the category of nivel peh, profane speech. Tonight at dinner we are going to talk about what we should do.”

Over meatballs and spaghetti, which by the way, happened to be delicious, we had our discussion.

We went through 7 steps of Problem Solving:

1. Parents, talk about your feelings:

“Daddy and I don’t like it when you use the phrase ‘shut up.’ It’s not the kind of talk we like to hear in our house.”

2. Let the kids talk about their feelings:

Here is what they said:

  • A: Well, he makes fun of me so I tell him to shut up.
  • E: What are we supposed to do if we don’t like what the other person is saying? Shut up really makes them shut up! Nothing else works!
  • T: I don’t think the word is so bad. All my friends use it. (Note to self: find her new friends.)
  • M: Yeah, what is so bad about it anyway? It’s not like it is a real curse word.
  • E: What kind of word can we use instead? There is nothing else that works.
  • M: Rabbi Newman (their principal) says ‘shut’ is a nice word and ‘up’ is a nice word. But if you put them together it is not such a nice word.

3. Reflect their feelings:

“So you guys don’t think it is such a terrible word. It also sounds like you all are having some trouble getting along. Sometimes you are being teased and sometimes you just don’t like what the other kids are saying to you. You feel like ‘shut up’ is an all purpose word. It stops the teasing and it makes people stop talking to you in a way that you don’t like. And even though Rabbi Newman doesn’t even like it you still think it is a good word to use.”

4. Name the problem and invite kids to come up with a solution:

“Daddy and I don’t like the word. So can we think of another word that can stop teasing and makes people stop talking to you in a way that you don’t like?”

5. Brainstorm without any judgments and write down everyone’s ideas:

  • M: What if we say “S U”?
  • T: What about “shut it”?
  • A: What about “open down”? Get it? It’s the opposite of “shut up.”
  • E: What if we say “shut up” very softly so no one can hear it.
  • Me: What if you say, “Be quiet!”
  • Husband: How about, “Leave me alone!”

6. Review all your ideas:

  • Me: The problem with “S U” is that it sounds like something really not appropriate. So I think we need to nix that. What do you think?
  • Husband: I really don’t like “shut it.” It sounds just as rude as “shut up.”
  • A: Well what about my idea of “open down?”
  • Me: If you want to use “Open Down” that is fine with me.
  • E: No one is going to know what you are talking about. That is not going to work. I am going to say “shut up” to myself quietly.
  • M: How is that going to help? No one can hear you.
  • E: It will make me feel better.
  • Me: I am cool with that.  As long as no one can hear you, I think that is fine.
  • Husband: What about “be quiet” and “leave me alone”? Will that work for you guys? Everyone agreed.

7. Give a quick recap of your decision:

Me: So A, you have decided that you are going to say, “Open down.” E, you are going to say, “Shut up,” silently. The rest of us are going to say “be quiet!” or “leave me alone!”

So far, so good. I still hear some “shut up”s, but there has definitely been improvement.  I hope this lasts for a long time. If not, do not fear – it is just time to have another brainstorming session.

Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.