"Can I have that, Mommy?"
You hold up the bag of chips and check the ingredients. You may even search for the kosher symbol. You want your child to ‘eat healthy, but did you ever think about what comes out of your child's mouth?
Those words should be wholesome and good too.
God created us with two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, but only one mouth. We do not have one mouth for prayers and moments of holiness, and a second for eating and speaking the mundane. We can't close one and then open the other. Everything that exists within us must be imbued with some sense of sanctity. Our food nourishes our body; our words nourish our souls.
When God breathed life into Adam and bequeathed within him a soul, he was given the gift of speech. What separates man from animal is the power of our word. My words reveal my inner thoughts.
Think about Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Jews from every walk of life gather together and sing the Kol Nidrei prayer. "Forgive me, God, if I have broken my vows; not kept my promises." Because who am I if my word is not my word?
Our Words Are Powerful
Words can build, words can destroy. Words can heal, words can demean. And using profanity or harsh language deadens a sense of self respect and dignity that lies within the soul.
Our children are often left to view movies, play video games, and listen to music that casually introduces unacceptable language into their vocabulary. Even in their classrooms, there are students who use backtalk and vulgarities against teachers and classmates. Children then come to believe that this is okay, even normal.
"Come on, everyone talks like that," they vehemently say. "What's the big deal?"
Society is not parenting our children, we are.
We cannot simply sit back and throw our hands up in disgust as we listen to our children's words. It's easy to nod sadly and blame our children's language and disrespect on our loose culture. But society is not parenting our children, we are. Or at least we should be. No, it doesn't take a village; it just takes a parent. One who is connected and concerned with his child's character. One who is attuned to the power of one's own
words as children absorb the way we speak. After all, if mom or dad can talk ‘like that,' why can't I?
Jill has attended my parenting classes from the time that her children were infants. This past year we focused on ‘the power of our words'. We spoke about teaching our children to speak with respect and sensitivity. She recently sent me this email:
I walked passed my son while he was looking through his pokemon cards. He was tossing the ones he didn't like and to my surprise, repeating over and over again, ‘this one ____!' as he tossed them. It was a less desirable word than ‘stinks'. Not a curse, but a clear indication that his exposure to first grade language had left my once pure little toddler forever changed.
It is so casual, this disconcerting change, that it leaves a mother frozen in her tracks. I thought of all my years of Jewish parenting with you and wanted to let him see now at six that he could have a higher standard than what he sees around him. He should know that he is different than the status quo. How could I be angry when he is learning from his environment? This is, unfortunately, what surrounds him each and every day.
I said to him, "Zack, honey, I am surprised to hear you use that word over and over again while you play. That language is not for you, Zack. You're holy."
With that Zack looked up and took a quick moment. He then thoughtfully asked, ‘What does that mean?'
I was so happy he cared. "Zack, you are a mensch, a Jewish boy, and God placed a very special soul inside of you. Your mouth is kosher and you are an example for others."
His face was different. My words got through. I knew it. He thought about what I said; he really took a good look. He went back to his cards differently and I was so happy that I didn't miss the moment.
Bringing Good Speech Home
So how can we parents help our children maintain higher levels of communication as they grow?
1. Be Involved
Too often, we take a laissez faire attitude and allow our children to set their own standards. Our kids decide which shows and dvd's they'll watch, surf the web, are glued to you tube, and program their ipods as they wish. But we are here for a reason. We have a right and responsibility to see what our children see, to hear what they are listening to; and if we don't approve we cannot be afraid to say ‘no'.
The other day I took my son to buy a game for his gameboy. We showed the salesman two games and asked him to explain why one was rated ‘T' (for teen) if they both seemed similar.
"Oh," he replied, "The teen one has better graphics and curse words in the background."
"Then of course we'll take the other," I said.
The salesman looked at me. "What's the big deal? It's only in the background. It's so low you hardly hear it."
"Well, why do you think it's there? " I asked. "It must be doing something?! It obviously enters your head as you play and that is not for us."
I was glad that my son was able to learn the effect of even subtle background ‘noise' that we often ignore or just accept as a sign of the times.
2. Hear Yourself
We often set higher standards for our children than for ourselves. We expect greatness from them, yet lower the bar as we live our daily lives.
Children pick up our language, our attitude and our tone.
A mother asked me why I think her family's Sunday dinner outings always ended in disaster. No one was ever happy and she found herself wishing that she'd never taken her children out.
"When you and your husband sit down at the table, what do your children hear? Are you putting down the menu, criticizing the food, belittling the waiter's service? Are you waiting impatiently and griping about it?"
"How did you know?" she asked. "That's exactly my husband. Nothing is ever good enough."
And here lies our answer. Children mimic all that they hear. They pick up our language, our attitude and our tone. If we desire children who speak respectfully, who are kind with their words, then we must first hear ourselves.
Let us teach each child to speak 'up'. Raise your voice, my child, not in anger or debasement, but rather through speaking with self respect and dignity. You will then ‘raise yourself' as you take the higher road. Speak up for truth and compassion. Reflect sanctity even as you talk. See the power of your words as they touch those around you. Speak up and allow your words to create a better world.