I am constantly struck by the things my six-year-old son says. It started with sayings that just seemed a little old for him to be using like an indignant What the heck? or Come on! said in the tone of an athlete being wrongly accused of a foul. My reaction is always the same: “What did you say?” I ask, thinking where did he learn this? Of course, I do have some idea. The next most likely explanation is that our son’s new phrases are things he’s overheard either from my husband and I or from the older children he spends time with since he started elementary school. His new sayings are harmless for the most part and provide an opportunity for my husband and me to ensure that he actually understands the meaning of the words he says. We also work to explain how others may interpret what he’s saying. Honestly, we’re never sure how much is sinking in but we figure he’ll better understand what we’re teaching him over time (and repeating ourselves more than we’d like).
The other day my son and I were walking together and he suddenly said crap. I just about fell over. Crap was considered a bad word when I was growing up. If I had said it as a child, a good soaping of the mouth, a spanking or some other form of punishment would have ensued. It was considered foul language. Funny, when we think of what acceptable language is now versus back then. After I collected myself (which probably took a good five seconds or so) I said, “What did you say?” My son looked at me with a quizzical expression and repeated “Crap?” We talked about why this wasn’t okay to say from a parent’s prospective. I told him that his father and I want people to take him seriously when he has something to say and not to dismiss his words, and that if he used bad words like crap, people were likely to do just that. Truthfully I don’t know that I’ll ever think its okay for a six-year-old to use this kind of language, no matter what society thinks is acceptable. It might be old-fashioned, but I really want my children to understand the power of their words, how they influence the way people see them and determine whether or not people will take them seriously.
It reminds me that even as an adult I need to be mindful of my words and recognize their power and influence, not only with my children, but with my spouse, friends and co-workers. It’s sometimes easy to forget or think that whatever we want to say is acceptable because we’re adults but really it comes down to respect, respect for others and for yourself.
It occurred to me just how true this is when I was talking to a woman whose son is in the same soccer class as mine last week. She noticed that my son was upset over losing the game (her son was on the winning team) “It looks like the coach is having a sportsmanship talk with him,” she said. “He’s used to winning, he still struggles with losing,” I said, putting my foot in it before I could even think about how that sounded. What did I just say? I thought. This woman must think I’m the braggart parent of the year—my son is used to winning, who says that? How embarrassing! Of course, we’re all guilty of saying things we regret. Upon reflection I should have just said, “he doesn’t like to lose.” Most people don’t—it’s not that big a deal. It reminded me to think before I speak. I sometimes say things I didn’t mean or intend, but if I can think about my words before I say them, I’ll probably get them right the first time.