I’ve recently taken up knitting again, and not because I’m a naturally crafty person. Knitting helps me keep my mouth shut. With three family Christmas dinners coming up, the timing is right.

My heart sinks every time I describe myself as quiet to a new (or new-ish) friend and she responds with, “what? You?”

I can’t imagine a reason to be anything but quiet — that feels like the real me — but I come from a long line of verbal fidgeters. This is a nice way to say that many of us chatter, argue, criticize, or even yell in a subconscious effort to balance out our brains’ dopamine supply.

Before any social gathering, I promise myself I won’t talk too much. I won’t interrupt, won’t argue, won’t interject non sequiturs. I can’t remember ever having success with this.

Michele Novotni describes a poignant conversation with her then-five-year-old son (prior to his taking ADHD medication) in her book, What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t?

I explained to him that once you have a thought, you need to stop and decide whether or not it is a good idea before you say it or act on it. Jarryd looked puzzled, “There’s no place to stop it, mom. It’s just all one step. That part of my brain must be broken.”

I know exactly how little Jarryd felt. Fortunately, I have my knitting, which gives me a fidget outlet besides my mouth. Knitting is way more socially acceptable than staring at my phone, and it provides a handy conversation piece to break the ice.

Of course, knitting isn’t my only line of defense against myself. Here are some strategies from our family’s toolbox. On a truly lucky day, we remember and follow one of them.

  1. Do something with your hands (knit, doodle, crochet, or find some other small, portable craft); this is what I call “getting your fidgets out,” and it’ll also provide a visual reminder of your goal.
  2. Avoid your traps. My husband has a terrible habit of arguing with his father after a couple glasses of wine. Neither of them needs to feel impaired for a lively debate to spiral out of control. If someone points out a pattern like this to you, listen!
  3. Give up on changing hearts and minds. Challenging someone’s political views in front of an audience won’t help your cause. Ignoring an inflammatory statement and gently changing the subject (or even just finding an excuse to leave the room) removes the offending person’s soapbox.
  4. Watch the booze. It worsens ADHD symptoms and…I needn’t say any more.
  5. Take those meds. They may keep you from making poor choices on the aforementioned points.

If you see me knitting during our conversation, take it as a compliment. It means I care about having a conversation with you. I’m trying to learn to listen more than I talk, and make sure the words I do say are more than just auditory clutter.

How about you? What kind of conversationalist do you want to be, and how are you getting there?