I took a big gulp the first time I heard a certain four-letter word flow from my precious daughter’s 1st grade lips. The child I protected, loved and nurtured used words reserved for rated-R movies – words my husband and I never dared to utter.
Public school was a mistake; I shouldn’t have put her on the bus. This was my immediate reaction to her rapidly growing vocabulary. I entertained ideas of pulling her out of school and ignoring the calling of our family to be a light to the teachers and other families in our neighborhood.
Fortunately, God quickly brought perspective, grace and resources.
I scoured parenting forums and blogs for advice on handling a child’s bad language. I was so disturbed by her behavior because we don’t curse at home. She’d been following our household rules around me, but not at school. I didn’t know what to do. …Have you been there?
Fortunately, several experts and organizations specialize in child psychology, and offer tips for handling a child who is using bad language, as well as insights into why they’re testing the limits. While searching online, I found an article encouraging parents to create a “safe space” for kids to share and process the foul language they’ve heard without fear of discipline. A light bulb went off.
I could relate to the power of finding a safe, confidential space and a trusted, non-judgmental person to listen to my honest feelings and struggles – it had led to personal freedom and forgiveness. I realized my daughter needed the same thing, and so I created an event we called “Safe 5” and introduced it in the kitchen one day.
“You get to say anything for the next five minutes… every bad word and mean thought. But when the five minutes are over, you will get in trouble if I hear you using those words.”
Her eyes lit up. I looked at the clock on the oven and once I said “go,” my ears filled with words and phrases that broke my heart. I prayed for strength and kept a straight face. She kept going. Toward the end of the five minutes, I found gratitude and hope.
She was honest with me.
The “Safe 5” is certainly not a blanket solution for all behavior, nor meant to be an allowance for sin. Rather it brought the words she was saying out of secret, and opened up a safe space for us to discuss them.
When the “Safe 5” ended, we hugged and I thanked her for sharing but also reminded her bad words are not OK to use. I silently prayed for her heart to change and vocabulary to clean up, and that through our honest conversations, sin would begin to break her heart, too. The next day, she surprised me. I offered another “Safe 5” but once it began, it only lasted one minute. She didn’t need a full five minutes to say bad words.
The next day, she declined my offer for a “Safe 5.” As days and weeks went on, I watched her attitude change and I received fewer reports of foul language and bad behavior. I continued to offer a “Safe 5,” but she usually declined.
In the midst of my panic over having a potty-mouthed child, God illuminated an unhealthy part of my heart: I saw my child’s struggle as a reflection on my parenting, and I selfishly wanted to make the situation about me.
I was quickly met with grace as God reminded me that it’s a common struggle for most parents. We intentionally raise our kids to walk in God’s ways and when they choose not to, it crushes us. In the pain, it’s easy to believe the lie – that it’s our fault. But fellow moms, I’m here to share that it’s not the truth. It’s not our fault if our kids don’t choose what we’ve taught them. If our kids pick up negative habits or rude language we didn’t teach them at home, we haven’t failed.
We don’t have control over our kids and their choices, but we’re not left helpless, either. We can choose to pray and trust what scripture says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). We can lay our requests at the feet of Jesus, and trust His grace for the outcome.
If you’re dealing with a child using foul language, here are a few articles I found helpful:
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