The ability of tact only begins to emerge between the ages of six to eight. Image Credit: Unsplash/Saeed Karimi

Tact is a slippery concept, especially when you’re trying to teach it to your children.

Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we find strategies that will help kids understand ‘tact’.

To be diplomatic, you’d have to be able to see things from other people’s perspectives. But this ability only begins to emerge between the ages of six to eight, according to a September 2011 report in the US-based parenting news website Today’s Parent – and even then, it’s an early stage. Little ones, who are so used to being self-centred and having a one-sided view of things, may find tact baffling.

For one, there are often degrees of truth involved. You might teach your child to be honest, but when he erupts into “This spinach is gross!” at his grandmother’s dinner table, it may be difficult for him to understand why it was wrong to say how he felt, even though he was just being honest. Then, there may be sensitive topics that children wouldn’t know to avoid, or white lies that they wouldn’t have the discernment to come up with (like telling someone their haircut is nice).

As a starting point, the 1999 self-help book The Family Virtues Guide has a good definition for tact that kids can adhere to: “Tact is telling the truth in such a way that no one is disturbed or offended.”

One way to help develop the skill in your children, is to ensure you’re being tactful while teaching tact. In a teachable situation, you could take your child aside and let them know privately what they said inappropriately, and why, instead of dressing them down in front of others. Modelling behaviour goes a long way when teaching.

Next, teach them about Thumper’s rule, from the Disney animated film Bambi: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Another strategy is to plan ahead. If you know your child is going to be in a situation where they will be exposed to something they don’t like, you could roleplay and rehearse what they could say instead. For instance, if dinner at grandma’s is coming up again, you could teach them it’s not polite to say the food is bad, rather it would be better to say no when they’re offered spinach, or just leave it aside on their plate if they’ve already been served.

Lastly, a good way to rephrase messages tactfully is by focusing on the ‘I’ pronoun. According to Today’s Parent, teaching your child to soften their message to make less jarring statements can make a world of a difference. For instance, instead of “this spinach is gross”, the phrase they could use is, “I don’t like spinach”.

What strategies do you use to teach children about tact? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at games@gulfnews.com.