You learn a lot about yourself as a person when you have kids. How much you can truly love someone. How much patience you truly have. How truly painful it is to see those little people you love so much get hurt. And just how far you will go as a parent to avoid this hurt in the first place. (If you can help it, that is.)
One of the biggest things I have learned since having kids is how to choose my words when speaking to (or in front of) my children.
Here are some words and phrases that we try our very best to avoid in our house:
- Curse words: Ok, this one isn’t completely true. Every once in a while one slips (hey, we’re only human), but my husband and I really try to never use curse words in front of the children–or even if they’re anywhere in earshot. Although curse words can provide a certain colorful flair to adult conversation, we just don’t find it appropriate for our children. To hear or utter. (And hopefully most people reading this will be thinking, “Duh, you don’t curse in front of kids,” but I have known families where this happens on a regular basis. I’m actually surprised at how many times I’ve witnessed this.)
- Derogatory words: As painful as it is to admit, I used words such as “gay” or “retarded” when I was much younger. Everyone did it, so I did too. I just didn’t think at the time how completely unnecessary and hurtful these words can be. But then, through education from some wiser friends, I did. And I have never used these words since. In my opinion, there’s just no need to use words like this ever. With anyone.
- Hate: We don’t allow this word. Ever. Not for referring to things or people. I don’t think any explanation is required here. We just don’t want it as part of our kids’ vocabulary.
- Stupid/Dumb: These are tough because you hear them everywhere. Out in public, on tv (even on the kid shows). And these terms are so seemingly benign (e.g., “Uggggh, this stupid remote isn’t working”). Until someone uses them to refer to your intelligence. And because it’s hard to explain to preschoolers why it’s acceptable to say an inanimate object is stupid or dumb, but not another person–and because my heart clenches when I imagine the hurt my children would feel if anyone ever called them stupid or dumb–we avoid these words altogether. (Same goes for other hurtful words such as “fat” or “ugly.”)
- Bad: This needs some clarification. We do use “bad” in certain contexts. “The milk has gone bad.” “Too much junk food is bad for your health.” But we never use the word “bad” to refer to how our children are behaving–we never call them a “bad girl” or a “bad boy,” for example. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back the train up,” you must be thinking. “Surely your kids aren’t perfect angels.” It’s true. They’re not. (And I have many witnesses that can attest to this.) But we prefer to label their actions or words as “unkind” or “not nice” instead of labeling them as a bad person. Again, at this age, it’s hard to explain to them that even though they might sometimes not behave so nicely, that doesn’t mean that they are a bad person.
- I need/I want: This is a pet-peeve of mine more than anything. When I was in college, I worked one summer at a bagel shop. And the number of adults who came up to tell me that they “needed” or “wanted” this or that without so much as a “please” or “thank you” just blew my mind. (“I need a dozen bagels and a container of cream cheese.” “Really, you need it?”) We understand that early on kids say “I need” or “I want” because that’s all they know. But once they can understand the concept of manners, we try to nip this kind of talk in the bud, instead focusing on them asking “please” and saying “thank you.”
Now we are not naive. We know our kids hear this stuff out in the world and even on tv (as much as we try to avoid it). And they drop one or two of these words from time to time. When that happens, we remind them that it’s not kind to do so and that they should speak to (or about) others how they’d want to be spoken to (or about).
Even though they don’t use these words now, that doesn’t mean they won’t pop up in the future. After all, just with everything else in life, there is a learning curve as you grow. As parents, we will simply continue to model the kind of language we’d like to hear.
Speaking of language we like to hear, there is one thing we do say around here all the time. “I love you.” My husband and I to each other. Us to the kids. We want our kids to know that no matter what, we love them. Unconditionally. Even if they do say “sh&t” by accident. 😉
As with all aspects of parenting, this is what we are comfortable with and what works best for us, in our home.
Are there words you try to avoid in your house? What makes your list?