Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Use Your Words: Why What You Say Around a Child Matters

My seven-year-old came inside from a raucous night of playing with his sister and some of their friends who live on either side of us and announced that one of his friends, a six-year-old girl in kindergarten, was called the F-word four times at school.

"The F-word.  I don't even know what it means," he scrunched up his eyes.

"Well, that's something we'll discuss when you're a little older," I said, hoping I had defused the situation and we could move along.

"F-U-C-K.  Fuck.  What does it even mean?"

I winced.  He laughed and so did my ten-year-old daughter.

Oh boy.  Strange that an act of love is expressed by such a mean, angry word.  A word I can't begin to explain to a seven-year-old.  For the record, I discussed the matter with the friend's mother and I wasn't at all angry at either the girl or her parents.  She innocently parroted back something audacious that she heard at school.  I just hate that she heard it in the first place.

Also for the record, I'm not a prim and proper Lady Grantham.  I have cursed like a sailor a few hundred times in my life, but ever since I became a mom I've watched my words more closely.  I realize that profanity isn't the worst thing my children can, or will, encounter.  I'm no Pollyanna, but I do think words are powerful.

I think the words you use say a lot about the person you are.  I think that the words you use inform people's perception and judgment (for better or worse) of you.  I think that some words, spoken in a threatening or vindictive tone, even by a child who is mimicking a brother, sister, aunt, parent, or friend, can be painful.  Thankfully, that wasn't the case with my son and his friend.

Children remember words, both cruel and taunting words and gentle, thoughtful words, and so I choose my words carefully.  I try not to dumb down my vocabulary around my children and have never altered the pitch of my voice when I speak to them.  They are capable of asking me for a definition and they appreciate being taken seriously.

I'm not upset that a child told my son about the f-bomb, but I am bothered that a kindergartener is exposed to language that is flip at best and violent at worst.  I've heard mothers at my children's school swearing up and down the hall at each other on Open House night as if the children around them didn't matter.  I choose to speak kind words, smart words, searching words, funny words, thoughtful and adventurous words around my kids because I want my kids to be kind, smart, searching, funny, thoughtful, adventurous people.  And I want them to speak to others with consideration not hate.

I realize that I cannot protect my children from profanity, or for that matter evil or heartbreak or loss.  I just try to guide them the best I can with the best words I can muster.