A few months ago, my wife was in a bind. We all know the stereotype 3 year old: ready to break down as soon as things don’t go their way. My wife was hitting those limits on a regular basis around the house. She was becoming more and more exasperated with his behavior. It wasn’t that he was bad. It was that everything became a battle. She felt that something had to be done.

After a bit of research, she picked up the book How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen. This became the guidebook and toolkit she needed to help curb and shape some of the behaviors that our son was expressing. I’ll have a better overview of the book once I fully commit to sitting down with the book. One part of the book that my wife immediately changed was how we, as a family, have discontinued use of the conjunction “but”.

The book explains the use of “but” negates the emotions of the other party. As an example > “I want a cookie” > “Sure, you can have a cookie, but eat your dinner first.”

What really happened is that the child heard that they can have a cookie. The dinner part of the statement is completely missed. You may have acknowledged what they wanted a cookie yet your true intention is for them to eat dinner. Two opposing statements have been put together into one confusing statement. The book has other tools for the parent to utilize in acknowledging the child’s request without negating their desire. First and foremost is being clear with what you, the parent, want.

The word “but” has now been evicted in our household. Anytime the word “but” is used in our house, we cut the other person off and say “We sit on our Buts”. It is frustrating to be cut off mid-sentence when having a conversation. However, I am now fully aware of how much I use the word “but” in casual conversation. No guest is immune in our household from the But Police.

This has me wondering how much I have used the word “but” as a conditional without realizing that I may have been unintentially negating a thought or emotion someone else had been holding. I makes me consider if there are any other verbal tics that I may have been using. As I have been writing this post, I’ve had to stop myself numerous times to prevent myself from using “but” to connect parts of an explanation together. It forced me to stop, think, and reconsider how to rephrase what I wanted to say.

As soon as the “buts” had been squashed, we had a new word problem. Our son started to overuse the word “actually” when responding to us or making a decision. Every decision was “I don’t want that. Actually,…” or some amount of rapidly switching between choices. So, the Language Ban Hammer came out again and now “We sit on our Actuallys”. Just like the “Buts”, the “Actuallys” have disappeared.

But I now know how much I say the word “actually”.