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?
May 27, 2013 at 10:08 am
Very well said. Children are like sponges, peripheral learning happens all the time.
May 27, 2013 at 10:34 am
It’s so true–even when they don’t seem to be paying attention, they’re paying attention. I could add so much more to the list, but these are the biggies here.
May 27, 2013 at 12:06 pm
It’s amazing the things they pick up. About two weeks after the twins came home my two year old son said to me “mommy, my boobss hurt”. I chuckled and said “your boobs hurt?” He looked at me and said “Yeah. I have been nursing all day!” LOL
Hope you don’t mind but I’m gonna share this post on my FB page 🙂
May 27, 2013 at 8:28 pm
Ha, ha, ha! That’s too funny. And of course, please share away. Thanks!
May 27, 2013 at 3:40 pm
Love your thoughts here! Just today, I had to remind my husband to stop wearing because my toddler was trying to imitate him!
May 27, 2013 at 8:29 pm
May 28, 2013 at 1:29 am
Oops, I meant ‘swearing’!
May 27, 2013 at 4:13 pm
I am guilty of letting more than a few curse words slip in front of my kids. Not happy about it but its true. I think it’s great that you parent in a way you are comfortable, and I think it is awesome that you always remind your kids that you love them no matter what. Sadly so few parents do this
May 27, 2013 at 8:29 pm
Hey, sometimes things happen. We do the best we can, right? 🙂
May 27, 2013 at 8:50 pm
Well written and thoughtful post Mac. I enjoy reading your posts because I get to live vicariously through what you go through with a family and kids. By the same token, people like to read my posts for the same reason, they get to live vicariously through me since I don’t have those and am relationship challenged. (I don’t post the real good stuff, those are not for a public forum) Sort of a symbiotic relationship.
Keep writing and I’ll keep reading.
May 27, 2013 at 9:25 pm
Symbiotic indeed! And ditto . . . you keep writing, I’ll keep reading. 🙂
May 29, 2013 at 12:53 am
Love this! I have found that as my boys have gotten older, I’ve gotten much lazier when it comes to guarding my tongue. Maybe it’s because they are old enough to “get” what I really mean or I’m just lazy. Not sure. This was a good reminder that the words I found ugly and inappropriate when they were 3-6 are still inappropriate at ages 7 and 9 and I’d better put myself in check. Thanks for the reminder!
The Pursuit of Normal;)
May 29, 2013 at 3:22 pm
It’s normal to relax your rules the older your kids get. We’ll see where we are with this in another few years.
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June 2, 2013 at 6:08 pm
All those are on my list as well… and i can also admit now that i have teenagers, i am MUCH less careful wtih my cuss words…although i DO try to keep it from my lil guy still… but i also i dont allow my kids to say “sucks” as in This sucks..or that sucks… i REALLY dont like that phrase. Or “tight”… as in ‘That’s a tight song’… meaning cool.. i don’t like that slang version of the word at all. 🙂
June 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm
I don’t like “sucks,” either, although I am definitely guilty of using that more than I should.