Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Words We Use

Words can injure. We all know this. Like me, I am sure you've been on both the giving and receiving ends of nasty language, spoken or written. In light of recent events, perhaps an examination of how we talk to each other, and how we teach our children to talk to others, is in order. Small steps.

Something that happened with Peanut prompted me to examine the words she chooses, but more important, the words I choose. She came home from school with a note from her teacher one day this week. Apparently, she had used some inappropriate language towards another student, then lied about it. A big double no. So her teacher let us know. Always one to assume the best of my otherwise angel of a child, I immediately imagined the possibility that the other kid deserved it. As I snapped back into reality, I knew what she said wasn't right. But I was conflicted about how big of a deal we needed to make of it. (It sparked quite a conversation with plenty of strong opinions on my blog's Facebook page.)

She told a boy in her Kindergarten class to "Shut up." This was the second such instance in the past few months. Making it worse, when her teacher asked her if she had said it, she denied it. "Shut up" isn't nice. We don't condone it. We don't say it. Or do we? As we sat at the dinner table, I asked her where she heard that from. You can imagine my surprise when she pointed at me. I felt like the dad in the old anti-drug PSA from the 1980's. "I learned it from watching you, dad." I was a little horrified. Turns out, she's right. I do say it. So does My Director. We say it in jest, as a colloquial replacement for, "Get out of here."

It's ironic when you consider that a reformed potty mouth like myself no longer swears. At least, I don't in front of Peanut. I made it a point to fix that before she was born. My Director and I try our best to speak nicely to each other when Peanut is around, especially in times of stress. I don't even like to say "because I said so" to her when she demands a reason for something. I feel THAT is a mean and dismissive thing to say to someone, especially a child who is watching and absorbing your every move. Yet, "shut up" somehow slipped through the cracks.

That's no excuse.

In this age of anti-bullying measures in schools, "shut up" is one of the new bad words. "Retarded" and "gay" also come to mind. Rightfully so. Those words are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, when used in a derogatory tone. "Shut up" should be the same. So shame on me. Originally I thought perhaps the note home, and the subsequent apology letter that my daughter had to write, was a bit much. On top of that, we didn't allow her any television or dessert that night. In retrospect, the punishment fits the crime. (Perhaps I should be the one writing an apology letter.)

After all, who wants to live in a society where we're all telling each other to "shut up?" (Some may argue we already do. And I wouldn't disagree.) In his remarks to the people of Newtown after the horror there, President Obama said something that really resonated with me:
"This is our first task: caring for our children. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right." 
There will be plenty of time for debates on gun control, mental health, school security, and everything else. All of those will resolve themselves, or not, over time. For now, what we can do, how we can care for our children, is set a better example. It starts with not calling each other names because we disagree. Not generalizing about an entire group because of the actions of one or a few. Not judging one for one's beliefs.

We need to listen to each other more, and stop feeling the need to win every argument. I'm going to listen to my daughter, who with her cry of "shut up" in school was telling me I need to choose my words better. Who am I to tell her that "hate" isn't a nice word when you're talking about Brussels sprouts, or that we don't call someone or something "stupid," when I'm sarcastically telling her mom to shut up five minutes later?

Violence can take many forms. We've seen the worst of it recently. When violence takes the form of ugly words, especially at a young age, we - I - need to stop and think before we speak. This is something we can do now. And it's so easy.

This post originally appeared on Barista Kids last week. I keep a running tab of days where I don't say, "because I said so" to Peanut. Click HERE to read more.


  1. So well said. Sadly, my kids father used swears like adjectives and I have had to slowly work them out of their vocabulary. I wish they had only been saying "Shut Up" to be honest.

    Thankfully, most days they are down to the occasional "damn". At almost 11 and 12 that's not so bad since I'm shoveling against the tide here.

    The odd thing is, what I say all the time, they do not. "Crap" seems to be a Mom only word... who knew?

  2. Don't let her watch The Princess Diaries then by Disney, as Anne Hathaway "Princess Mia" frequently uses "SHUT UP" in the same manner you and your director do.

  3. As a teacher, it cracks me up that with all the swear words my 4th graders know (and use) "shut up" is the one that gets gasps when someone dares to say it. It's a bit over the top. I think saying "shut up" is not a big deal. The lying to the teacher is a bigger deal. I GREATLY appreciate you working through the "the other kid deserved it" Papa Bear reaction. The other kid probably did deserve it, but that doesn't have anything to do with the task of parenting your own kid! Well done, Dad! In fact, I recently wrote about this and other tips for having a great relationship with your child's teacher. You can read it here:

  4. Couldn't agree more. What's tough is when you know, or even suspect, your child is around other adults, family members or otherwise, who do not censor themselves. We can certainly censor what comes out of our mouths, or should anyway, but there really isn't any way I can control what someone else says. I can ask them not to use that kind of language around my child, but that's about it. If it's another family member, simply keeping the child from being around the offending party may not be a viable option. As adults and parents we can do a better job of watching what we say.

  5. we say shut up lots in our house. Along with plenty of other ACTUAL swear words. Have you heard the mouth of the average 6th grader recently?? I prefer that my children hear this "colorful" language at home, know what it is and how it is not appropriate, and what is nice and not nice to say. Especially with all the bullying going on. Kids need to learn to let some stuff get stuffed... under the rug. And teachers need to know when to really get involved. Funny that "shut up" gets a rise in a classroom, but when I report that a girl called my daughter a bitch online that got a brush off. Huh. Let's see what is wrong with this pic?

  6. I love love this post. You're very insightful and inspriational. Thanks! ;)

  7. I've been thinking more about the things that have come out of my mouth when talking with my kids. I don't think I swear ever. But I have, admittedly, screamed in frustration when my girls won't stop crying and whining at each other, "For the love of God, please just SHUT UP!!!!" Yeah, you can email me that parenting award any day now. Sigh. Anyway, I am trying to be better. :-)

    PS - here from the YKIHIYHT blog linkup


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