I have a funny story that I desperately want to put in here as the perfect introduction to this post, but alas it involves people I love and words that shouldn’t be written on a Christian parenting site. Let me just say this; if you, like me, used to use potty language in social settings usually for a laugh, the joke stops dead when your 2-year-old picks up on it and employs said vocabulary. (Dead at the hands of your wife I might add.) Lesson learned. I was young.
So what can you do when your kid comes home singing a song that he learned on the playground with lewd language that he clearly does NOT understand? What do you do when your child swears in a foreign language? Or more seriously, what do you do when you have shared custody of your children with a spouse who doesn’t restrain his or her language around the kids? Let’s deal with the innocent ones first.
When your child, regardless of their age, uses a word inappropriately never ever react harshly. For one thing, when a preschooler picks up on bad language (and they do!), you had better trace it back to the source. Chances are very good that if bad language (or just naughty words, like “shut up”) have entered your little child’s vocabulary that they have heard it repeatedly. They mirror us don’t they? As parents we always need to think through what we expose our kids to not only with our own words when they are in the room, but what they hear from behind closed doors or from the TV that is on in the background (some kids’ shows have surprisingly insolent little characters).
For the slightly older kids who are using language without understanding the meaning, it is still very important to react calmly. For myself, because I’ve worked with youth for so long, I just assume that if my 7-year-old uses a phrase, he knows darn well what he is saying and is trying to be a little stinker. But the reality is he probably doesn’t know the connotations of what he just said. The last thing I want to do is embarrass him so it is a good idea to just simply smile and say, “You know, those words aren’t the best. I think they mean something you don’t understand.” I can remember many gestures and little rhymes or jokes that we used to say on the playground and I can honestly say I was mortified when I learned that they were dirty.
No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 (HCSB)
This is a great time to teach them about who real friends are as well and what to do when friends have different rules as they do. It’s easy for kids to conform to the patterns of their friends’ lives and for some reason it usually isn’t the friend who has virtuous speech and kind actions. Nevertheless, we need to help our children to have all sorts of friends and still stay pure themselves! And if it comes to it, some friends just might not be worth it. I would also say, that as a parent, you have every right to gently and lovingly explain to the friends who come into your home that they are not allowed to take God’s name in vain. I remember when my friend’s mom came into our grade 5 class and talked to us about respecting God’s name after she had heard crass language while volunteering with the class. She had the permission of the teacher to do so and I remember thinking how amazing it was that she would use bad language as a way to help kids learn about God.
Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21 (HCSB)
There is a difference that you will notice as your kids grow up where the language becomes much more intentional as they enter middle school. I think much of the language they use is actually just a testing of boundaries which you need to lovingly enforce just like any other boundary you have put in place to keep your kids safe. I also have quite a bit of grace for kids in middle school with regards to their language. The reason is that there is so much other stuff going on in their brains and hearts that it really is easy for a bad word to slip out unintentionally simply because they are not mindful of their language. This isn’t acceptable, but it is a good chance to teach them about being mindful!
Make sure you have a conversation with kids about what actually is appropriate in your home. (And make sure you are on the same page as your spouse!) Earlier I used the word “darn.” Darn isn’t an awful word in my view, but I’m fully aware that other family’s would be shocked by it and I try to be sensitive. Personally I cringe when I hear a kid say “Oh my gosh” because to me that just sounds too much like “Oh my god.” As a result the use of OMG is outlawed in our home (it sounds stupid anyways). The thing is you can’t uphold a standard that hasn’t been established clearly.
Now if they just don’t follow the rules, they will need consequences. I know there are people who think that the best way to train a kid’s mouth is by making them aware of their tongue using hot sauce or soap or something like that, we don’t do that in our home. But I am TOTALLY ok using writing lines (especially scripture) as a way to enforce language that is acceptable. In fact, fighting language with language makes a lot of sense.
Media, that is TV, movies and music are obvious sources of crass language and imagery, but be careful about books as well. When you watch a movie and there is some questionable content or vocabulary you can address it (provided you are watching the movie with your kids), but when they are reading books, you aren’t in their heads. You don’t hear how they read something, in what tone they imagine the character speaking etc. That means it is probably a good idea to know what your kids are reading just as much as what they are watching. It’s surprising the kind of language that is in books these days and that language is possibly more potent to stick in a kid’s head than something they see or hear through media.
A good rule to teach your kids is, if they don’t know what a word means then they just shouldn’t use it. Teach them that if an older kid giggles when they encourage you to do or say something that it probably isn’t a good thing. Teach them that jokes that make fun of people or use rude language or bathroom talk, probably aren’t great material. In short, our kids need us to help them develop wholesome language that is constructive, kind and yes even funny!
Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way. James 3:7-10 (HCSB)