Don’t Talk “Down” to Them

Photo by Waqar on Unsplash

When my second son was around two, we were sitting at a restaurant that had butcher paper on the table tops. My older son was sitting in a chair next to his mother, and on the other side (the booth side) of the table is where my second son and I sat. As we waited for our food, all of us were engaged in drawing, and playing pencil games (tic-tac-toe, etc) on the butcher paper. We were so engaged in our activity that I did not realize that my son kept moving left to find clean paper on which to draw, and I would respond by moving left as well. This action meant that Steven was moving toward me and that I was moving toward the end of the booth. Then came the moment that I realized that I was nearly falling off the end of the booth.

I looked at my son, and said to him with a laugh, “you are usurping my space.”

I realized that the boy was only learning to talk and though he had a decent vocabulary by this point he was only 2 years old so, he probably (most certainly) did not understand the word that I had used.

I said to my two-year-old son, “Can you say: usurping?”

And he said, “I’m surping,” skillfully conjugating the base word with what he had inherently learned thus far about the English language:  If I told him “you – (something),” then he had discovered that it must mean he says “I – (something).”


I have had many conversations with youth leaders, teachers, and parents who “talk down” to the kids, or use the term dumb-it-down when they are teaching certain material.  As much as kids are captured by certain colors and sounds, because of developing mental expression, don’t miss that kids are smart!!! In fact, arguably smarter than you from an interval of learning standpoint. In a traditional relationship with, healthy people on both sides, the only difference between your intelligence level and your child’s, is experience and vocabulary! Of course be animated and increase your energy, but don’t talk down to them, just talk to them.


Photo by Sebastián LP on Unsplash

So, Dad… I challenge you, if you have toddlers or older, talk to your child(ren), today, like they are experiencing life the same way you do. “How is your day going?” … ” What was your favorite part of your day?” and then LISTEN. Once your kids begin to talk, or course you have to talk with their vocabulary, but you don’t have to compromise the meanings of what you’re trying to say to “dumb-it-down.”

You can do it! Talk with your kid(s) today!

2 thoughts on “Don’t Talk “Down” to Them”

  1. I talk down a lot with my daughter. I find myself struggling often with the difference between being her friend vs. her father. I often feel like the latter requires chastisement more so than love or rather I struggle to blend the two. I spend more time on correcting, rebuking than I do on guiding and helping. This results in her shutting down on me rather than getting to what she really feels and what is motivating that. This becomes cyclical or a downward spiral for the more she shuts down, the more I follow suit and just walk away from the core issues in my life that God wants to show me.

    I’m encouraged by this site and want to be a better father, the way God wants.

    In a world where so often parents try to be “friends” with their children I often struggle with this in my mind for I know or feel that truly isn’t supposed to be my role.

    1. Chris,
      Thanks for commenting, and relating to the content here! I speak from experience, and most of my “don’t do thats” have to do with my own failings, and recognizing that they don’t work. That “downward spiral” can be debilitating, especially when you are sincerely trying to be a good dad… I know.

      I have found that love covers a multitude of wrong choices. When love is showered as often as possible, the moments of reproof are more bearable. When they know that you are on their side, and love is the motivation for the correction they will understand it better. I say “better” because all discipline is unpleasant at the time, so don’t get discouraged by her “reaction.”

      If you were wrong (chastisement vs guiding) don’t be afraid of re-connecting, in humility. Explain that you made a mistake, which caused her to shut down, and that that isn’t how you want to treat her. Then pour on the love! Ask her to forgive you. (a lesson in itself – modeled by a good “dad!”)

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