Earlier tonight, I overheard my four year old son scolding his younger brother. “Harry, c’mon! No more dilly-dallying!” At first, I chuckled at Henry’s obvious parroting of a phrase he’s heard from me who knows how many times. However, the incident got me thinking…

Our children are like sponges, soaking up EVERY WORD we say.

Ephesians 4:29a “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth.”

So often, we think that the only words we need to refrain from using are the swear words. The obvious no-no’s. The bleeps. However, I think there are words far worse we  let slip. The sad truth? Most of us are letting dropping them faster than an actor in a Quentin Tarantino flick.

Let me tell you another story. It was around 6:30pm, and I was waiting for my husband to get home from work. I was prepping something in the kitchen when I noticed our 2 year old daughter walk to the window. She started tapping her little foot and sighed in the most exasperated way, and then said, “Ugh! Where ARE you David?!” Wonder where she got that one?

Several months later, David and I had gotten in an argument over the phone while he was at work. In my anger, I vented aloud in the presence of our young daughter. I thought nothing of this, considering she was so young, and was probably distracted with her toys and whatever Dora was exploring. How wrong I was. When David got home that evening, Hannah wouldn’t go to him. When I made her go give him a hug, she looked up at him with a scowl, and said, “Daddy mean!” Oy.

Like I said, children are sponges, and their ears are always open. What are my children hearing? What habits are they picking up as they watch and observe? I started to think about my words and the home atmosphere I’m creating for my children, and was struck –  by a few examples of words I need to eliminate.

*“White” Lies – The lie you tell on the phone, saying you’re sick and can’t come to the event, when clearly, you’re not sick. Are your kids learning that it’s okay to tell lies and make excuses to get out of things? Are we teaching our kids that it’s only important to tell the truth when we benefit from it?

*Angry Venting – These are the words that slip out of your mouth in the car….when you’re stuck behind the elderly driver in the passing lane, or when the semi cuts you off. How do they hear you respond to customer service? What is your response when you have to wait longer than usual at the store or the restaurant?  I want to teach my children to temper their anger and have self-control. I want to be an example in the everyday moments that cause us to lose control.

*Lyrics – What songs are you listening to around your children? Are the lyrics about things you’re comfortable with your children repeating? (I was HORRIFIED the day I heard my four year old singing, “Blow my whistle baby”…..We don’t listen to that station in the car anymore! No matter what they’re doing in the backseat….they CAN hear and ARE paying attention!) Likewise, are the tv shows and movies you have on while they are present appropriate for little ears?

*Gossip – What do you say about other women? Is your daughter learning that it is acceptable to gossip and slam other women? Do you want your kids thinking it’s cool to talk about people behind their back?

My final two examples today are rarely thought about, but of the utmost importance.We don’t typically think about these things as areas we need to check ourselves or edit our speech, but are the two areas we likely fail in on a daily basis. I have two questions for you.

What do you say about your spouse?

The things your kids hear you say about your spouse are critical, and will shape not only their opinions of their mom/dad, but  their future relationships. If they are witness to a loving and supportive relationship where you build up and encourage your spouse, he/she will grow up to be a more loving and encouraging spouse. However, if your child hears you tear down your partner, criticize them, belittle them, yell and nag, etc. it WILL affect them and the spouse they become. You must be a model of a loving marriage in your speech. A few negative words can undo so much in a child’s eyes.

What do you say about YOURSELF?

Are you constantly putting yourself down? Do you self-deprecate in front of your kids? Do you talk about how you’re fat, ugly, and not good enough when they’re in earshot? I guarantee if you do, so will they….only not about you – about themselves! The next time you open your mouth to say something negative about yourself, ask yourself if you’d be okay with your child saying it about themselves. Set an example in the area of self-confidence. Show your child that you are special and unique, and appreciate your quirks. Give them the freedom to love who they are by loving yourself.

Let your words be a reflection of the type of person you want your child to become. Each and every word your child hears is shaping them into the type of adult they will be. Consider your words and test them, checking to see if they impart grace and breathe life. What are your children soaking up when they hear you speak?