Can you contain your but?

No, that’s not a typo. 

(It would be an entirely different newsletter if I asked you if you could contain your butt. I’m not in the business of telling anyone to contain butts! Wear ’em proudly!)

I’m talking our ‘conversational buts’. Like the one that you tack on to the end of your apologies (“I’m sorry, but…”) 

Or the one that you sneak in after you say reassuring words like “I understand you (but…)”

Or when you are trying that validation thing I told you about “that sounds really tough…..”


I can hear you trying to hold it in…it’s so hard! Oh no..what’s that I hear???

“That sounds really tough….. BUT you still can’t talk to me in that tone of voice!!!”

“I understand you, BUT I still think you’re going about it wrong!”

“I’m sorry, BUT you were a huge jerk!!!”

Phew. So glad to have gotten those off my chest. 

That but!! It’s so hard to contain!

Let’s talk about how we can let our buts go once and for all. 

Let’s get right to the point: Why do we say “but”?

At a very basic level, it’s because we hate having to hold in our thoughts and feelings. Humans have really bad impulse control. 

More specifically, holding our tongue feels like a loss of control, a loss of authority, like letting people “get away” with crappy treatment or attitude. As parents, it feels a bit like we aren’t doing our job; We can’t just let things slide. We need to point out behaviour and teach our teens and tweens how to properly behave so that they are kind, compassionate, and socially “successful”. 

Admirable. Sounds like good parenting. It is, after all, our job to mentor them on how to achieve healthy social and emotional connections in their life. 

But (there’s that word!), the message we are actually sending when we say “but” is: “I don’t feel comfortable being present for your emotional needs”, “my needs and bottom line are more important than yours”, ” I don’t want to have to put myself to the side for you right now”, “You should always behave in a way that makes me and other’s comfortable”. In other words “your ‘appropriate’ behavior matters more than your feelings. Your compliance is what will ‘earn’ you love, support, and respect.”

Oh yuck! That doesn’t feel very good. That is definitely NOT what any of us were going for. 

Let me reassure you: None of you are jerks. 

None of us go into parenting thinking it’s about “me first”. 

We parent in ways that we hope will give our kids better futures. We parent in ways that we think will offer our kids the most success, personally, mentally, emotionally, and socially. 

But sometimes our intentions don’t translate because we put the SKILL ahead of the RELATIONSHIP. 

We prioritize the: “But you were a jerk and rude and you shouldn’t talk that way it’s not kind” (aka the social skill) ahead of the the quality of the connection between you (aka “you are clearly upset and overwhelmed and need me to be patient as you try to express your needs and feelings”). 

Overtime, when the skill comes first, the kid inevitably feels second. And the bond between you becomes fractured.

Teens and tweens do not have the same capacity as adults do to express themselves with grace, or to reason through their confusing emotions (heck, some of us adults are still struggling with that). That is why giving them space to express, even when they don’t express appropriately, is still crucial for their healthy and secure attachment with you. 

Can you contain your but? Yes. But it won’t come easy and it won’t feel good. 
Holding your tongue in service of the relationship is probably one of the hardest tasks of parenting. 

But here’s the reassuring bit: Holding your tongue doesn’t mean ignoring the problematic behavior or neglecting to teach the critical skill.

It’s all about timing. 

Social skills, respect, and healthy communication are all important things to teach your tweens and teens. And letting them know that the way they communicated their needs wasn’t the best is entirely recommended. Just not in the heat of the moment!

When they are in the midst of working through their thoughts and feelings and asserting their voice they are not receptive to your educational efforts. 

Once you stay present with them, and they can express themselves, and you hold space for them and attend to their needs, THEN they can trust you as a safe person to connect with emotionally. After that, they will be much more open to hearing that perhaps their methods of communication need some work. 

So do not hold back on your teachings. Just time them in a way that they will be able to hear it without becoming defensive and without feeling like you are negating or neglecting their emotional needs. 


I hear you protest. I do! I get that it feels hard to just let them back talk and have attitude at you while you sit back and say “oh honey that’s so hard. I understand”. You wonder if that will reinforce their behavior if you don’t intervene and stand up for yourself. 

Valid valid concerns. 

Stay tuned next week for insight into how and why this simple shift in communication timing and sequence will make all the difference!