As a society, we have very attuned ears for what words are offensive. There are words that religious people find offensive. There are the words that collectively we have decided are hurtful…as well as the words various groups are trying to get people to understand are potentially hurtful.
This is good, but it misses another type of language we use as parents that also has a tangible impact on our kids and on strangers alike. Not swear words but words of judgment, loaded words, words that carry weight…often in ways we don’t appreciate.
We talked here at Daily Dad a while ago about words that are better to shout than “Be Careful!” when we’re worried. We’ve talked about the kind of comments those in older generations throw around–the ones that take note of how much someone is eating, that shame or other, calling them your pride, not your joy. We’ve talked about how easy it is to lapse into cynicism and negativity, thus depriving your kids of hope or a belief in their own agency. As parents, as people who live with impressionable people, we have to watch for this. It’s perfectly fine to protect your kids from vulgar language, but this kind of influence is much more inappropriate.
What if instead of being concerned, you were just aware? What if instead of talking about behavioral issues, you just talked about behaviors? How about instead banning curse words from your house, you banned negative self-talk, maybe negative talk entirely? Instead of complaining about their use of slang or improper English, you tried to limit complaining itself? What if instead of trying to find a nice way to point out that another kid is playing better than yours, you just dropped comparison altogether?
Marcus Aurelius writes in Meditations about how our life is dyed by the color of our thoughts. It’s also dyed by the color of our vocabulary, by our diction. We have to be aware of the words we use around our kids, as well as the words we use in the course of our own days. Because it shapes them and it shapes us–it shapes how we see things, what we believe is possible, how they feel about themselves, and how we feel ourselves.