How to Talk to Kids about Bad Words

“Oh, shut up!” Lynne said (fairly playfully) at Jim in the banter after a staff meeting. This sparked a conversation among the staff about our respective families and what words were or weren’t permitted.

Copy of How to Talk to Kids About Bad Words 1 1

About the Author: Rebekah Schulz-Jackson is Jim & Lynne’s daughter-in-law. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, Daniel (yes, THAT Daniel).


“Oh, shut up!” Lynne said (fairly playfully) at Jim in the banter after a CF staff meeting.

I blinked a minute, then turned to the person next to me. “Wow, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Lynne say ‘shut up’ before. In my house, shut up was ‘The S-Word’.” (Yes, even though it’s really two words.)

This sparked a conversation among the staff about our respective families and what words were or weren’t permitted.

“Our family has a rule about taking the Lord’s name in vain, but that’s about it.”

“In our house it was just the big ones. But one time I was babysitting for a family where the kids weren’t allowed to say ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb,’ and I usually did pretty good, but one time I slipped. ‘Where is that stupid shoe?’ And then I realized what I said and had to apologize.”

“You know,” I said slowly, light bulb on, “Every family has a different place they draw the line. But none of those rules get at the real issue, which is the heart of anger or frustration beneath whatever you say. The words are different, but the anger is the same.”

Arbitrary rules about unacceptable words, without a discussion about the heart attitude beneath them, can communicate a dangerous, false message: “How things look to others matters more than what’s real.” These kind of rules may require kids to zip their lip and harbor difficult feelings, without learning the skills to deal with those feelings constructively.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Whether your expletive or name-calling requires bleeping or not, is it helpful? Does it build others up? Does it benefit those who listen? What are the feelings underneath the words?

Now, the point of this post is not to say that your kids should run around dropping f-bombs because “the anger is all the same anyway.” But it’s important to consider the bigger picture when we discuss appropriate language with our kids and make a plan about dealing with the difficult emotions behind the words, rather than just imposing hard-and-fast rules that draw an arbitrary line in the sand.

Apply It Now:

  • Read Ephesians 4:29 together as a family. Talk about what it means to use language that “is helpful for building others up according to their needs.”
  • Discuss together what sorts of words you would like to use or not use in your house and why.
  • Talk about a plan to deal with the real feelings when those “s-words” are on the tip of a tongue, whether it’s “stupid”, “shut-up” or… something else. =)

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