The Bible tells us that the words that come out of our mouths are one of the hardest things for us to control. They are often the thing that hurts others and makes situations more negative and complex than they need to be. When coupled with the lack of general maturity and a pre-frontal cortex that isn’t fully developed, it’s no wonder your children struggle with using words that help rather than hurt a person or a situation.
Communication is necessary for your children to be healthy mentally, academically and spiritually. It’s an important part in having healthy relationships with family and friends. It can also help them get a better education or job or accomplish things that make the world a better place. So the solution is not to tell your kids to just be quiet all of the time. (Although the Bible does tell us to focus on listening more than talking – crucial advice for your children to master.)
If your children have developed bad speech habits – like whining, complaining, lying or cursing – just telling them to stop may work only to a point – if at all. Poor speech needs to have better communication habits ready with which to replace it. Helping your children practice these better communication options for common issues can help them make better choices of words in the moment.
Here are some great replacement types of words to use for common issues.
- Instead of curse words, use large “fluffy” words or appropriate idioms (not curse words) from another language. Cursing is often a quick way to show others a strong emotion or to communicate in such a way the speaker believes he or she will actually be heard. What’s more attention getting than a young child spouting a multi-syllabic word or a funny idiom from another language or time period? As an added benefit, they are improving their vocabularies, knowledge of history or another language and culture. Instead of cursing when angry, your kids can say they’re madder than a bear with a sore head or that it’s their bete noire! The ears of others will tune in to the strangeness of it.
- Instead of whining, ask what they can do to help change things and make them better for everyone. Whining usually happens when someone is unhappy that things aren’t going “right”. It can be from pure selfishness on the part of the whiner, but sometimes the “responsible” party would love to fix things, but just doesn’t have the resources. Offering to help can take stress off of that person and may also provide what the whiner initially wanted.
- Instead of complaining, list three things for which they are grateful or think of/do at least one thing to improve the situation. (Note: This is not about filing a formal complaint to get something fixed, but general non-productive complaining.) Complaining can come from a loss of perspective. Or an unwillingness to make changes to improve the situation. By listing blessings, perspective can be regained. By making a positive change like always placing their backpacks by the front door at night, they will no longer have to complain about not being able to find them in time.
- Instead of lying, tell the truth and accept responsibility. This is tough for many children. They know that telling certain truths means consequences will follow, so they lie to avoid those consequences. Help them see that the consequences for lying are much worse, by talking about how trust is destroyed by lies (and the consequences of that) and by giving stricter consequences for lying to avoid getting in trouble.
- Instead of saying something unkind, be an encourager and problem solver. Often unkind words (particularly between siblings) are often said out of frustration at something like “loud chewing” or crossing imaginary boundary lines. Instead of saying something hurtful to someone, teach your children to look for something positive to say to the person that will encourage him or her to focus on positive behaviors. Or if someone is annoying them with something like their loud chewing, find a solution, like asking if they can play background music at the table.
- Instead of criticizing, seek to know. We live in a critical world. Not critical thinking, but an unspoken belief that by criticizing others, we somehow look better. Often, the people we are criticizing are people we don’t know very well. It’s easy to assume the worst of others. Assuming the best doesn’t mean you are excusing the poor choices others may make, but rather you are seeking to better understand the person, his or her situation and why the person may have made the choice being criticized. Of course, the best antidote for criticism to teach your children is to seek to know others. Be curious. Don’t grill them like a police interrogator, but ask questions designed to help them better understand the person and to find areas of commonality. Those areas of commonality can become building blocks to serving others, sharing their faith and perhaps making a new life long friend.
- Instead of yelling angry words, resolve the conflict. Yelling angry words, may feel helpful, but they usually just worsen conflicts. Instead, teach your children a conflict resolution model and help them practice using it. Here is the conflict resolution model from our website.
- Instead of gossiping, change the subject. Gossip has a way of getting out of control and spreads lies about people from which they may have a hard time recovering. Your kids may not start the gossiping, but they can stop it by changing the topic of conversation. This allows them to stop it without lecturing their peers.
This list isn’t all inclusive, but you get the idea. For any negative speech you believe is ungodly or hurting them in some way, help them find a replacement speech that accomplishes their goals in a more productive way. In fact, some of those good speech habits, they may want to incorporate more even when not needing a substitute for poor word choices. Help your kids listen well and speak so people want to listen to them.