Words, Words, Words

Words Recently my oldest son Adam approached me with a look of disgust.  "Stephen just said the F-word," he said.  "He did WHAT?"  I gasped, my heart in my throat.  Adam looked over his shoulder and whispered, "You know….fart."

Bad words.  Mean words.  Disrepectful words.  Words that are mean to your brother.  Words that don’t please God.  So much of parenting seems to be the managing of what comes out of these little creatures’ mouths.  My sweet Adam, who has a conscience the size of a Mac truck, had another interesting conversation with me last week:

Adam:  Mom, I’m ashamed of something.

Me:  What is it?

Adam:  When I go over to Joey’s house, he’s allowed to use some bad words.  And sometimes I use them too, while I’m over there. 

Me:  What are the words?

Adam:  [swallowing hard]  "Shut up" and "stupid".

Me:  Do you know why this is bothering you?  [He looked up expectantly].  Because when you use words like that, you’re disobeying your parents.  That’s sin, and God is pretty clear that when sin sits in your heart for a while, it’s going to hurt.

Adam:  [Pausing for reflection]  I know.  But sometimes they’re so just so much fun to say! 

This led to a long discussion about what makes bad words bad, and good words good.  In the interest of picking battles, I even negotiated a little on adding a "borderline" word to our repertoire, with some boundaries (they can say "dumb", as long as they’re not applying it to a person.)

Like most families, we’ve developed an unofficial list of "off-limits words" and "use carefully" words:

"OFF LIMITS" WORDS: (other than the obvious four-letter variety):  "stupid", "shut up", "hate", and a whole host of descriptors for bodily functions and parts that I omit here.

"USE CAREFULLY" WORDS:  "dumb", "whatever" (that one drives me nuts), "darn" and "dang" (which they, um, learned from their mother)

Then, of course, there’s that all-important communication tool that matters (to me) even more than the words themselves:  tone of voice.  Not an easy thing to describe, is it?  Seven-year-old Stephen has a penchant for putting a little too much fire in his tone, leading to our concern that he might, in fact, develop a taste for soap in his mouth someday.

So tell me, experienced moms out there…how do you make these decisions in your household?  What’s your family list of "off-limits" words?  How do you make those determinations?  What kind of punishment awaits the offender?  Any tips on keeping respectful tones coming out of their little mouths?

31 thoughts on “Words, Words, Words

  1. Perri says:

    I’d say our lists are just about identical.
    As for offenses, I think a couple of them could describe the aftertaste of Irish Spring.

  2. Missy says:

    Too funny. Fart was the F-word in my hubbies family, while it was perfectly acceptable in mine. After a minor skirmish as newlyweds, we decided not to use the F-word anymore. *grin*
    I’m struggling with words and tone in my household, too. No advice, just understanding.

  3. momrn2 says:

    Our lists are pretty similar. Any word that shows disrepsect to themselves or others is not tolerated.
    I’m with you, what rakes my nerves most.. tone of voice! AAARRGHGHG! And whining… if you get any great ideas here on how to stop the whining.. shoot them my way.
    I had to smile when you’re little one admitted that sometimes those “bad” words are just so much fun to say. AH, nothing like the honesty of children!

  4. chilihead says:

    Ugh. Tone of voice is our biggest problem. That and saying encouraging things to your sibling instead of just tearing them down. We’ve had a very rough few weeks. I’ll be checking back to see what others have to say.

  5. Chaotic Mom says:

    I don’t have any advice or thoughtful input. This is something I’m having to work on in my own life. Funny note is, when I DO use bad words like “shut up” or “stupid”, my boys are very quick to point it out. 😉

  6. peach says:

    Our lists are identical. Instead of the dreaded “f” word, we prefer “toot”, which for the mama just seems more acceptable.
    We have used a variety of consequences for infractions of the rules. They vary from the soapy to the hot as fire result.
    If I use a drop of spicy hot sauce, I always follow it with a spoonful of honey to let them know the “bad” word was hot and mean, but the words of the Lord (the ones that heal rather than hurt) are sweet like honey. We’ve found this to be an effective object lesson.
    As far as tone of voice and whining are concerned, I have found that teasing them out of it is most effective. When I say, “We speak no Whinese here”, usually the laughing that ensues dispels the reason they were whining in the first place.

  7. Stephanie says:

    (first time commenter here, love reading your blog!)
    We have a similar off-list, but our kids are still pretty little and aren’t around other kids to influence them just yet. Not sure how it will go down when school starts! We have told them that all mommy & daddys have different no-no words, so some kids might say “shut up” or “stupid” and their mommy lets them, so we encourage them to not make a big deal of it. Our kids are big on bringing it to attention right away– tattlers! Those off limit words are something you have to stick to- because the kids are listening to your every word even when you think they AREN’T! However, I have found that it is also a good time & lesson to show them that you make mistakes, too, and have to ask forgiveness, too (when they catch mommy & daddy saying one of THEIR restricted words or phrases…)

  8. Lyn says:

    Oh the dreaded “f” word! I have had this “oh my gosh what did he say moment” with my 5 yr old when my 7 yr came in and told me he said the “f” word. Then it was the “s” word (stupid). My heart skips a beat and then I laugh, to my self!
    Tone is an issue in our house too.
    No advice just loads of mommy understanding!

  9. Scott says:

    (first time commenter and dad here)
    We struggle with the tone issue mostly (from our 4 year old), but I’m sure that words will be the next battle. I think for my wife and I a key part of the it is to always be on guard over what they say. It is so easy to ignore things, but if you don’t correct them then the bad attitude just continues to grow. Of course, I have to watch what I say, too, as I sometimes hear my son talking to my wife and he’s just emulating my own bad behavior patterns.
    Our former pastor’s wife used tabasco instead of soap. That would work great on my son, but my two year old daughter actually likes hot sauce.

  10. Liz says:

    liquid soap is much more effective than bar soap.
    *said as one who has had her mouth washed out on more than one occasion*

  11. Kate says:

    Ditto on all of these! I’d be redundant to write more. And ditto on the word “toot” instead. (Make a joyful noise, right??!! Just not unto the Lord in this case, for relief rather!)
    I’ll say “hush up” instead of shut up (which I can’t stand to hear from anyone!) or “zip your lip”.

  12. Owlhaven says:

    OH, it’s tough. When my big kids were younger I had pretty much the same rules as you. AndI think I still hold my younger kids to thosse rules. But I guess lately I’ve been letting my teenagers slide by with some stuff I shouldn’t. When my 14 year old is impatient with a younger sibling (about twice a day) he will say, “Stop being an idiot.” Semantically not *quite* like saying “You ARE an idiot.” But in meaning, it is the same. I guess I need to reinforce the ban on the word idiot…
    Another word we say casually around here that makes me wince is ‘cr&p’– modeled by both parents at times too, I am afraid. A few weeks ago I had a talk with everyone and asked we not use that one…
    Yourpost was a good reminder to me to stand firm…
    Mary, mom to many

  13. Sandra says:

    Oh boy, my list is pretty much the same as yours.
    I have a 7 year old girl and a 3 year old boy and at times they say things they shouldn’t. They KNOW they are not allowed to call each other stupid, or idiot or use the word hate.
    Just the other day my 3 year old walked over to my husband and said “daddy you go play with me on the bunk bed right now or I’ll spank your A S S”. GASP!!! Guess who got punished? It wasn’t daddy LOL

  14. Julie says:

    Basically the same list as yours. They’re allowed to use stupid though as long as it’s not referring to a person or something they did. Noah came to me one day and said “Mom, Natty said the B word.” I’m racking my brain trying to figure out what the b-word is. “You know mom, stupid.” It’s the bad word. So they’re all “b words” in our house 🙂
    The other day “Oh my God” came out of my 3 yr old’s mouth and I about fell out of my chair. She knew she’d blown it big time.
    We are soap users. They get one warning first but then the liquid soap comes out. They both hate it.
    I love “peach’s” illustration with the hot sauce and honey but I’m afraid 3 yr old would like the hot sauce. I usually talk about how God wants “clean” things to come out of our mouths.
    Tone of voice is a huge one that I’m working on with them. That was the mantra in our house growing up “Watch your tone.”

  15. mimi says:

    I just wanted to say that I am so grateful to be reading this post!! We live in So. Cal and it sometimes seems we are the ONLY ones who care what language comes out of children’s mouths. We have pretty much the same list and my kids know whats expected but I certainly notice a difference when they come home from some of their friends homes! It’s nice to know I’m not alone.
    As for punishment, the rule at our house is that if sweet isn’t coming out of your mouth, no sweet is going in. Depending on the word or even tone (zero tolerance for sassing in our house)depends on how severe or how lengthy. After one particular episode, son #1 (9 yrs)took to school a lunch of peanut butter w/no jam, carrots, and a bottle of water for a week. Same type food at home. It’s especially hard watching the rest of the family eat Sunday dinner dessert. The episode has NOT been repeated!! Works for us.

  16. Rachelle says:

    As a new mom, I am fascinated to read the comments. I have the problem at school. Where besides all the awful cuss words, kids come from homes where rude names and words are acceptable. I try to prevent them in my room as much as possible, but it is so hard when kids are raised different. I set an example, but punishment is hard. I can talk to the offender and do other school things, but unfortunately it doesn’t change much. Thank you for raising your kids right!

  17. Shalee says:

    Once again, I am finding that I am of like mind with you and all the commenters. (Scary, I know.)
    We are trying to teach our kids respect for God first and foremost. The rest can come easier if they understand why we don’t say certain words.
    This really wasn’t an issue with my daughter. She really is a pleaser and she would tell her friends that we don’t talk like that.
    I’ve discovered it’s a whole new world with boys. My son doesn’t get it so much mainly because there is some “Three Stooges” chromosone stuck in him that reared it’s ugly head when he started kindergarten this year.
    We have found that if we are consistent and show a good example, it seems to help him more with learning it. We have also discussed how some things, although natural, are better kept private.
    It must be sinking in slowly but surely because when we last had a group of boy over, they started in on the potty words. My son came up to me and told me what was being said (I was in another room). They boys quickly got a “talking to” from each parent. That seemed to help because we were all on the same page.

  18. GiBee says:

    Oh, MAN!!!! (with a lot of TONE and WHINING in it)
    I just BECAME a mom, and now I have to come up with an “off-limits” word list??????
    Good grief… who made the F word an F word any way? Well, I guess it is 4 letters.
    I obviously have a lot to learn, and Shannon, I sit at your feet and soak in everything you say…

  19. GiBee says:

    By the way… adults, evidently, need to work on certain “communication skills” — I worked with this guy who once told me… “you know, GiBee — if you were my daughter, I would punish you for rolling your eyes so much.” Okay, he used my real name… anyway … Can you believe he said that to ME???
    (rolling eyes)

  20. mimi2six says:

    As a teacher, I’d love to have all of your kids in class!!! You guys are working so hard to raise your children to do the right thing, and I admire you so very much for it. Hang in there! It’s worth the time, effort, pain, frustration, etc. Your generation has it harder in these parenting areas because of the media. How many children’s TV shows and movies show the adults as intelligent, wise, and admirable?? Most that I know about show the parents (particularly the dad) as a buffoon. You are all doing the right thing by teaching your children to guard their mouths…..someday they’ll thank you for it.

  21. Gabriela says:

    My list is about like yours. My kids prefer “gas” to toot. I have used liquid soap before and it was very effective.
    My seven year old girl a few weeks ago said a couple of times, “What the hell?”. My husband and I do not ever say that, so I’m not sure where it came from. But, I had to go out of the room to laugh. We had a talk about it and that was the end of it. I am sure it won’t be that easy with my boys!

  22. beth says:

    Our list is much like yours in English. However, we live overseas, so have the added challenge of knowing another language well enough to watch their mouths in that! This is complicated by the fact that they often don’t realize how bad the word is in the other language, and we don’t either, as they are more proficient than we. Sigh… But I totally agree about the tone of voice. That is the one thing we don’t tolerate round here. We mostly deal with it by simply not putting up with it, but I got some more good ideas by reading these comments! Thanks!

  23. Faith says:

    Our list is like yours. I will admit though, as the older kids got – older- it got harder to control that tone thing. Hormones and all that jazz. My words of advice -coming from mistakes – NIP.IT.IN.THE.BUD. whatever it is!

  24. Stacey says:

    Wow, looks like you hit a hot button with this post… Lots of comments!!
    I don’t know how many times growing up I heard “It’s not what you’re saying, it’s the tone you’re using!” I used to get so frustrated, especially when I was just trying to prove my point.
    Now that I’m a mom, I catch myself saying it to my 4 yr old. Pretty funny how we turn into our parents!
    We do have a list of bad words and they’re pretty much the ones you have. Altough we don’t say whatever or dumb. It’s hard to know where to draw the line, isn’t it??

  25. Heth says:

    So, watching the movie Napoleon Dynamite didn’t really help the issue at our house. “Idiot!” My kids just have a way of finding the bad words even in the nicest of movies. My four year old discovered the phrase “I HATE you.” and I realized he heard it in the movie Finding Nemo. *sigh*
    We don’t use hot sauce or soap. Over here, it’s vinegar. While they are gagging and wretching, I’m trying not to to die laughing at their dramatic display.

  26. Carol says:

    I’m going to totally rock this boat. I do agree with everyone so far, but…
    I teach my kids that words in and of themselves are neither good nor bad. It’s how, why and in what context we say them that shows others what is really in our hearts.
    There are socially unacceptable words that we adopt as being off-limits in our home. We’ve talked about them, the kids know what they are and that the punishment for their use will be the same as the punishment for blatant defiance. (ie. They don’t want to go there.)
    But to explain to a child why the words damn, hell, and ass are in the Bible, but not acceptable to use in any context puts a parent on a slippery slope. So, we go back to the heart issue. In what context was the word used and why? Was there a way to say the same thing that might not offend someone or are we talking about a situation where the word is called for as in, “Yes, hell most certainly does exist.”
    By the same token, is there anything good or bad about the word “halleluia?” What if it’s said about someone when they die in a car accident?
    All that to say, some words that were once completely acceptable and useful in communication have been mutated by people over time and are now totally unusable. A word can not be good or bad, but its use can. One caveat: the f-word, not talking fart here, while never the nicest way to convey the fact, has been totally lowered to the place where it simply cannot be redeemed in any context. There are a few others approaching the same dung heap. To that I say, good riddance!
    Wow! Great question!

  27. Natalie Joy says:

    We learned the vinegar as punishment from Heth of “From Under the Laundry Pile”. It is a great illustration to teach children that our bad words give God a bad taste in his mouth. I had never though of following it with honey. That sounds like a good idea.
    Heth’s four year old was playing with us one day recently and asked me if we had vinegar. I said yes and he pensively replied “Oh”. I’m not sure if he was scoping me out for what he could get away with or just curious.

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