‘Respectful communication’ with children — not cursing — is damned good parenting advice

I was the guest on a podcast recently about parents who curse. This got me reflecting on how I dealt with cursing in my house, and what the message was that I was trying to get across to my kids.

As a writer, corporate communications trainer, and keynote speaker (about the power of words and positive self-talk), I spend a lot of time thinking about words as they define my living. Words have tremendous power and that power can be positive or negative. Every time that we open our mouths and speak, not to mention every time we talk to ourselves, we have a choice in the words we wield.

As an expert communicator, I lean on Stan Lee’s famous words: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” It’s fitting that these words were in a Spiderman movie, because words are sticky, like a spider’s web, and they stick to the person who utters them. It’s best that we choose positive words, inspiring ones, and thought-provoking words to fill our minds and webs, because they attract people to us. Indeed, as the saying goes: “The quality of our communication defines the quality of our relationships.”

I don’t remember my parents cursing around my sister and me before we were adults, and even then, I can only remember a handful of instances. Neither did I curse around my kids when they were young. I do remember a couple times when a few choice words in Spanish flew out of my mouth, but they didn’t speak Spanish.

Basically, I taught my kids that they weren’t tall enough to reach swear words, and even if they knew the words, they weren’t tall enough to use them. That worked surprisingly well, so well in fact, that I wish I could thank the person who suggested a variation of that concept to me, except I don’t remember who it was.

As my kids matured, and my son began to tower over me, I knew I wouldn’t be able to rely on the height restriction for his speech, but by then, he’d learned other important communication lessons. Both my kids were often the guinea pigs for my corporate communication workshops where the first rule of communication is that it has to be respectful. No communication should negatively impact someone’s self-esteem. (They also loved the Lego exercises to foster communication and teamwork.)

My teens know that some swear words, or even common words, are disrespectful to some people and not others. For example, I ask them to say “oh my goodness” or “oh my gosh” to avoid being blasphemous. I remind them that swearing in another language is still swearing and to be mindful because you don’t know who speaks what languages. Everyone has words that are on their no-no list, and I won’t list them here and give them any more negative power. Even words like ‘stupid’ are disrespectful to some, especially when used to describe a person or their ideas. On the flip side, the F-bomb is punctuation for some people, and an important dramatic emphasis for others.

So, the more I thought about cursing and parenting, I realize that the more important lesson is not not to curse, but instead to practise respectful communication. This means, no yelling, no insults, no tone or body language, no trigger words (whether they are curses or not), and nothing that reduces self-esteem. Kids who are raised to communicate respectfully won’t swear, except around people whom it won’t bother.

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