A rude word out of a baby’s mouth isn’t something extraordinary nowadays. A four-year-old toddler can sometimes say a foul word that a drunken sailor would be ashamed of. “Where do they learn all those words?” the embarrassed parents gasp in bewilderment. “We never say words like these at home.” If you really never say “words like these”, hopefully we will be able to correct this situation.
Even if you don’t use foul language, your neighbors and their children, as well as other children in the kindergarten and at school, along with some of your guests, passers-by, and characters from YouTube videos that you let your children binge watch to get them occupied with anything, do. You say you avoid all those things? Great but the issue with worldly influences remains. You can’t shield your child from all dangers and evils of this world, for then must ye needs go out of the world. (1 Cor. 5:10).
What shall we do? You’ve got to teach your children to tell good from evil, useful from harmful, holy from sinful. You’ve got to teach your children to be thoughtful and responsible. You’ve got to teach them not just to avoid bad language but also regard the gift of speech as a God’s gift in general. You’ve got to teach them to use their tongues in moderation and in a clever manner. It’s high time that they learned it!
Having assigned themselves this lofty task and hasty to see the results, parents can start beating their children up and doing other unseemly things—and to no avail, in my opinion. Your child will not appreciate your deeply held righteous motives; she will resent you and feel the urge to do the opposite of what you’re trying to teach her.
Another extreme way to achieve your goal is making your child listen to your abstract and lengthy moralising. A child usually finds an abstract thought hard to memorize. Her world is filled with objects and feelings, not concepts. Children like to touch, smell, taste, or disassemble things. They can’t live without interaction and contact with the environment. A smack on the head is wrong; abstract moralising is wrong, too. You have to find the perfect balance.
When I happened to utter a foul word in my mother’s presence (I had heard it from my friends), she sent me to wash my mouth with soap. I was rubbing my lips and tongue with the bitter detergent and thinking that words can be dirty, too. Old school, huh? I don’t think anyone uses this method any longer nowadays but it made a huge impression on me and I didn’t feel offended or humiliated.
However, we should look for other ways of explaining this point. I’ve found one such way, not far from the soap: toothpaste. Dear readers, here is a sketch of a class on The Gift of Human Speech, for children aged (approximately) 6-9.
You will need several toothpaste tubes. Find an appropriate moment and be serious and focused: yours is an important mission.
Lesson 1. Recklessness
Give one tube to your child and invite him or her to squeeze all toothpaste onto a plate. “Dreams come true,” he or she will think and start doing it vigorously. When the child hands you the empty tube, smile and ask him or her to… put the toothpaste back into the tube.
Naturally, toothpaste won’t get back into the tube. That is when you will rightfully conclude that “a word is like toothpaste: once out, you won’t bring it back in.” An empty tube looks ugly; people throw it into a trash can. A verbose person is often considered empty and unworthy of paying attention to.
One more thing. If anything goes wrong, children sometimes say the magic phrase, “I take my words back.” The example of the squeezed toothpaste teaches them that what they do is hide the plate behind their back and pretend that the toothpaste isn’t there but it is a lie. As soon as the word enters the world, it begins to act, healing or crippling, building or destroying. You’ve got to bear responsibility for every word.
Lesson 2. Talking Too Much
Take another tube and another plate, this time with patterns or a drawing. Invite your child to repeat the contours on the plate with toothpaste. Encourage your child to imagine that she is a maverick artist who always wants to try something new. Praise her for her effort and say that it’s one thing to squeeze everything at once and the other thing to squeeze the toothpaste bit by bit and only where needed. It’s more difficult but the difference between a shapeless mass and a masterpiece is evident. Talking only as much as necessary is a great achievement that pleases our Heavenly Father.
Lesson 3. Slander and Flattery
If your son or daughter has already been to summer camps and seen the practice of smearing a sleeping person with toothpaste, typical of those places, you can give them this example to teach them about words that people can use to besmirch a person: to libel a righteous person or to justify a bad person. Applying toothpaste to your summer camp friend’s face isn’t the proper way of using this substance. The Lord gave us the gift of speech not for slander or flattery.
Lesson 4. Switcheroo
Finally, it’s time for the last tube, which is a special one. It appears to be the same as the other three, but this isn’t the case. You had previously replaced the toothpaste with shoe polish and made it look like toothpaste. Ask your child to apply this paste on a new toothbrush. Imagine how surprised she will be when a strange-smelling black substance will go out of the tube instead of the colorful and fragrant white toothpaste. Ask her if she likes it. Build your discussion in such a way as to make your child understand that foul language does not correspond to our calling. God wants to hear certain kinds of words from us but sometimes hears different words. The toothbrush is spoiled by the shoe polish, and we’ll have to throw it away. Isn’t it a symbol that shows how destructive swearing is?
I believe that’s all with regard to toothpaste. I’m sure, though, that there are some other funny ways to help children make sense of our complicated life. You can correct most of the character flaws of your child, hopefully—but only if you, dear readers, serve as a good example for your children and don’t use foul language.
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds