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Talking to Kids about “Bad” Words: Tips for Christian Parents

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

We’ve all been there. Our child comes home from school and asks, “What does the ___ (fill in the letter) word mean?”

Cringe.

As much as we (or maybe it is just me) would like to keep our kids in a little protective bubble, the world is full of “bad” words. Knowing how to deal with it as a Christian parent is important. The key is to present the information in a way that will explain but not overwhelm them.

Since young children are most often visual or tactile learners, visual aids with these kinds of matters can be very helpful. Below is an image that you can copy if you would like. I have not made this tool into a PDF printable because I feel that it is most effective when drawn out in “real time” with your kids as you explain it, rather than teaching them from a pre-printed form.

Teaching kids the importance of choosing their words carefully

The Continuum of Words

As the image indicates (click for a close-up), all words can be placed on a continuum.

On the far left are wonderful words: words that build one another up, make people feel good and are encouraging.

The next category includes good words as well. These are positive but not necessarily uplifting or encouraging.  Neat and cool are some examples.

The middle ground includes neutral words. This is where a lot of everyday words are found. See if you can look around the room you are in and find a list of your own. Have fun with it.

The next level is getting into the negative area. These are words that don’t tear people down, but may be words that your family chooses not to use. They are not “bad” in the sense that they can almost always be replaced with a socially acceptable word instead. These include potty talk, slang and crude words for body parts (the correct terms for body parts would be in the neutral zone). Your family’s list might differ from mine.

The last category of words on the spectrum includes words that are demeaning, belittling and tear people down. These include words like dumb, stupid and swear words.

Some Final Thoughts of Application

If your child asks, “Is calling someone a ‘silly head’ a bad word?” you can remind them of the continuum of words and ask some probing questions: Do those words build the other person up or tear him down? Would you like to be called that? By themselves these words may not be bad, but if they hurt someone, we need to avoid that particular combination.

As far as explaining the meaning of swear words or crude language, this will depend on several factors: the age of your child, maturity level, her need to know, and the possible negative impact of having such information in her possession.

You want your young children to have correct information about these things but at a level that is appropriate for them. If your child has misinformation, it is important to correct it. You want them to have a general idea, but the specifics you can save until they are older. You can say things like, “That is an angry word that tears women down” or “That is an angry and hurtful word some people use when they don’t take the time to express their frustration properly.”

Let’s make sure that we are modeling positive language for our children as well. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a brand of hypocrisy that can become a stumbling block for our children in this area as they grow up.

Here is a great list of Bible verses that you can use during these discussions with your children. Use them as the basis of a Bible scavenger hunt and have your children write their favorites on index cards and then post them on the refrigerator.

And finally, keeping the lines of communication open is very important. You can periodically say to your child, “You can always come to me if you ever have a question about something you hear or a word that someone says. It’s important that you get the right information from me. I’m always here to talk.”

 [Photo credit: clarita from morguefile.com]

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God’s word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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