Shushing Children


Imagine this scenario.

At work, you walk by a few colleagues chatting. You ask one of them a question, and she looks at you with this annoyed face and says, “Shhh! Can’t you see I’m talking with Brad right now? I’ll be with you in a second.” Then she turns away.

I wonder how we would respond if someone rudely shushed us like this? Probably not too well. And yet this is how we talk to children at times.

Understandably, many adults feel that this shushing-type language is sometimes fitting for children, that little boys and girls may occasionally need such blunt lessons in manners. For example, say a mother is talking with a friend when her 6-year-old daughter tugs at her shirt with, "Mom! Are we leaving soon?!" Clearly the girl’s interrupting is not respectful, and she surely hasn’t perfected the art of tact. But should mom then be knee-jerkingly disrespectful and tactless in return?

How about if instead of a demeaning "Shhh", this mom offered her daughter an understanding reply: "I hear that you’re ready to go, but I’m talking with my good friend. I will be done in 5 minutes. After that, you and I will leave."

Here, a young girl’s feelings and thoughts were heard, and she was given clear and considerate (yet firm) direction. Her mom treated her with respect -- she led by example -- which is the most effective way to help children be respectful in turn.

Ultimately, there isn’t a good reason to shush a child for interrupting a discussion, just as there wouldn’t be a good reason to shush an adult in a similar situation. The way to teach children (and late-blooming adults) manners is not to think of them as lower than us, deserving of a diminished kind of dialogue, but rather to treat them as though they already are the people they’re capable of becoming.

Jesse McCarthy, jemslife

Subscribe here to receive future posts.

Image by Katie Tegtmeyer


Sign up to receive jemslife emails on parenting & education.


To contact Jesse McCarthy for media, consulting and speaking, email