I often get asked the question ”what do I do about my 3 year old and his sassy mouth?” And of course, the very next one asked was the normal mom response of “and where did he learn it from?” I think that question bothers us a lot…and sometimes keeps us from reacting in the correct manner.
It bothers us to hear our children talk ugly…yell their answers to people, reply with disdain and sarcasm or tell us to “shut up”. It bothers us because we feel responsible, we wonder if we have exposed them to a bad influence, we wonder if someone has talked that way to them, we even wonder if they learned it from us! And that bothers the most – the idea that our children might be copying us.
We have to put our feelings about the situation aside and be the mother. It is true that many times our children have picked up speech habits from us that are wrong…and we need to evaluate and deal with those issues. But, in the moment we must deal with our children’s speech.
So, what do we do with a sassy mouth?
First we deal with the immediate behavior. In the case of the 3 year old who replies in a sassy manner we have to declare the words spoken wrong and require them to repeat themselves in a more appropriate manner. This will usually require many, many times of correcting. When this simple correction doesn’t yield any better comment then we may have to punish in some manner. This can be as simple as “no, you may not have any more juice until you ask nice” or may escalate into “you may go and sit on your bed until you are willing to talk in a more appropriate manner”. Whatever tool we choose to use, we cannot allow the child to continue talking in an ugly manner without some correction.
As the mom of teenagers, I am becoming aware of the loss of ability to directly and immediately change my children’s behavioer as I was able to do when they were much younger. That means two things to me: don’t waste the younger years and don’t give up just because it seems like they are ignoring you. I might not be able to put my 15 year old in time out and get an immediate response, but he still needs to know I am wholeheartedly against the behavior.
It is always important to point out children to the biblical basis for how they should behave. Ephesians 4:29 tells us to not let unwholesome talk come from our mouth…which would cover most name calling, spiteful retorts and unkind words. Unwholesome can be defined as “foul or dirty”, a description that children can certainly understand. Colossians 3:20 tells children to obey their parents in everything. Often our children need that reminder that they need to obey us in speech as well as action.
Second, we should take time as moms to examine the influences that are helping to shape our children’s speech. So often I find that I am quick to make sure my children aren’t exposed to obvious things such as swearing or “adult themed” conversation. But, I forget to be aware of things that are simply disrespectful or unkind. Or another is how often my children hear people complain about things. That type of unwholesome talk can creep into our lives so easily.
Third, we need to examine ourselves. Our children are often the best mirror for our behavior. There is an old poem that says ” if a child lives with criticism he learns to condemn” and continues with many ways our children pick up our habits. The occasional bad word heard on the playground will have much less stickiness in your child’s life than the disrespectful tone you use toward your husband.
Words are incredibly important. So Mom, what are you doing about that sassy mouth?