If you’ve ever had a child in early elementary school, you know that age group often considers the word ”stupid” as a curse word. They may use other unkind words, but not ”stupid”! Sadly, for most children that ban fades with time and their words can become increasingly unkind or even mean. Speaking unkindly to others can become a bad habit that is very difficult to break. There is a fun way you can work together as a family to speak more kindly to others.
Gather your kids together and share with them verses in the Bible about how we are to speak to one another. Some good ones are Proverbs 16:24, Proverbs 15:1-4, Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6, Proverbs 25:11, 1 Peter 3:15. Have your kids explain each scripture to you in their own words and give examples that illustrate the verses. Explain that all of you need to practice being more careful in how you speak to others.
Have several pieces of paper (preferably large), each headed with a different category like ”Unkind Words”, ”Kind Words”, ”Words That Help”, ”Words That Hurt”, ”Words That Encourage”, ”Words That Discourage”, etc. Have your children give you suggestions of words or phrases for each category (Note: There is no need to list every curse word. The term can cover them all unless your kids are using words they don’t realize are curse words.) Make sure your lists include the things they say to each other that you know are unkind or hurtful.
Explain that the lists will be where everyone can see them and add other things as they think of them. Periodically share any new entries. Don’t be too surprised if they add things you say to them. Sometimes parents are unaware how the things they say impact their children – and that may differ from child to child. (A great deeper conversation to have with older children and teens – how careful do we need to be with words that some find hurtful, but others don’t.)
What happens next depends on your family. Do you need to break bad habits? Are you trying to encourage them to focus on being more intentional in providing encouragement to others? If you are trying to break bad habits, you may want to establish some sort of accountability. Maybe a jar filled with slips of paper – each listing a chore that must be done if caught using unkind words with someone. To be fair, if you have such a system you need to let your kids ”catch” you using unkind speech and assign you a slip. It may be necessary, however, to explain the difference between parental correction and unkind speech (assuming you are loving, but firm in your correction).
If you are trying to encourage more intentional encouragement from your children to others, try to ”catch” them in the act and give praise when it is appropriate. You may also choose to give some sort of small reward when you feel like they have established better habits. For teens, you might also want to work on ways they can use their words to point others to God and share their faith.
Have fun with it. Have your kids make scripture art with verses about how we speak to one another and display it around your house. Encourage them to write and perform a skit on the topic for younger children. Get blank books and let them write and illustrate a children’s book on the topic they can use when babysitting or donate to a group working with young children. Assist them in developing strategies strategies that can help them to remember to speak kindly to others when they are away from home, like a special bracelet or memorizing a verse to think about when tempted to use unkind or hurtful words.
For some families this may need to be an ongoing project. It’s worth it though if your family becomes known as Christians who always speak kindly to others.