Haven’t You Ever Felt Shy, You Idiot?

Our words have the power to build others up or tear them down. Sometimes we unintentionally cut people in half with what we say and how we say it. Think about this.

After working with children for ten years, one thing in particular that makes me crazy is when adults call young kids “shy” to their face. We’ve all heard it or said it before. While in line at Starbucks yesterday I struck up a conversation with the nice woman in front of me. When I said hello to her 3-year-old son he covered his face and hid behind her leg. She reacted to him in a disappointed tone saying, “Charlie! Why are you being so shy!?!” If he could have spoken up for himself, the little guy might have said, “Because I’m leery of this stranger wearing snakeskin rain boots whose ponytail is all frizzed out like a wild woman (it’s true, I was having a bad hair day). Duh, Mom!” I know many people will disagree with me and think nothing of it, but I felt bad for Charlie. His mom was criticizing his perfectly normal behavior in front of a large audience. I smiled at him and said, “It’s ok, Charlie, sometimes I don’t feel like talking to people either, especially when I don’t know them.”
We should THINK before we speak. This acronym is a good way to measure our words:

Are my words Truthful?
Are my words Helpful?
Are my words Inspiring?
Are my words Necessary?
Are my words Kind?

Here are some ideas for ways we can revise phrases that have a negative connotation:

Replace “Wow, you look tired!” with “What can I do to help you today?”
Instead of “You haven’t completed the project!?” ask “What obstacles are you facing?”
Rather than “I haven’t heard from you in forever!” say “I miss you, let’s make plans!”
What are some other words you often hear that tear down or have an underlying tone of criticism? How can they be rephrased in order to build people up?



  1. Tracy –

    Great story and some great advice! I always try to ask: Is what I am about to say going to build up or tear down? As a leader, you can still deliver constructive feedback in a way that will let the person know you care about their development and that you are on their side even though the message may be tough to swallow. Also especially with children, we must measure the ratio of positive feedback to constructive feedback. A 5:1 ratio (positive:constructive) is what we should all strive for.

  2. Mike,

    I really like the 5:1 ratio! Thanks for sharing.


  3. My favorite is when someone says to me, “Wow, three kids so close together. You REALLY have your hands full!”. I always say, “well, no one complains about having a full wallet. I feel very blessed.”

    • Robert Taylor says:

      That’s awesome, Niki. Love it. =)

      I also like the 5:1 ratio. You can’t be rainbows and moonbeams all the time, or no one will respect (or believe) your “opinion”, but you can definitely temper the amount of negative remarks you make. I know that I don’t meet the 5:1 ratio right now (probably 3:1), but that’s a good target to strive for.

      • Good point, Robert. Before negative things come out of my mouth I try to ask myself if they are “necessary” from the THINK acronym. Most of the time they’re not, but they do fly out anyway on occasion. Of course constructive criticism is necessary, and if we think about HOW we deliver those messages we can be much more effective.

    • Niki,

      I have a friend with triplet boys and people say the same thing to her all the time. I know it drives her nuts! I will have to mention your response to her. Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment! I love your perspective.

      My best,

  4. In the peaceful parenting classes I took in Vermont, we focused on offering three positives for every negative behavior. One of my favorite examples: “Wow, Isaac, you’re sitting so nicely. You smiled so sweetly. You looked right at me when you said hello. Now remember, don’t bite your neighbor.” Honestly, though, preschools were so much calmer there then where I am now :). Tracy, I think it’s great that you were able to say something to the mother that validated her son’s behavior, and without criticizing her parenting; positive change rarely happens when we feel ‘attacked.’
    Personally, it bothers me when people talk about D. and I.’s behavior with them present – they’re right there! And they have ears!

    • Davi,

      I can hear it now, women practicing in an uber-sweet, nice tone of voice saying, “now don’t bit your neighbor!” Hilarious.

      I’m glad you brought up not criticizing the parenting of the woman who said this to her child. Honestly my fear in writing this post was that it would come across as though I was judging her. God knows I have said about a million wrong things to my children in public and as mothers we need to build each other up and also not tear each other down! I certainly don’t think she intentionally said this to make her child feel bad. I know a lot of people who say this very same thing to their children all the time. I just don’t think they stop and really think about the power of their words and how things sound coming out of their mouth. My hope is that people will be encouraged to do just that after reading this post.

      Thanks for stopping by. Always love hearing from you!


  1. […] friend told me about this great post from Time with Tracy  called “Haven’t you ever felt shy, you idiot?” about how we can all do a better job in thinking before we […]

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