Prior to working in education I had a career in the restaurant industry. I’ve never worked in long-haul trucking, or on a crab boat, but I’m willing to bet that folks working in a restaurant have some of the most colorful language around. Profanity peppered the kitchen so abundantly that most of us grew tone deaf to it. After 15 years in lovely peaceful Montessori settings I have a hard time not spitting out my tea when I hear a less than polite word in the classroom coming from one of our lovely students. And yet, it happens, every year. Here’s what you need to know and how to keep those shocking exclamations to a minimum.
Language is dynamic
What was out of bounds 20 years ago has become commonly accepted, and what used to be commonly accepted has become taboo. Additionally, different cultures and different families may have their own thresholds for acceptable language. In the classroom we are in our own community and can develop our own community rules. We have an obligation to educate children about the power of their words and how to use words, body language, and tone to build community, promote understanding, and make the classroom a safe space. If a child is using a word or phrase that is not a big deal at home but might offend a classmate, we can ask them to keep that outside of the classroom. Of course, some words are clearly out of bounds. Profanity and hate speech are always unacceptable, but keep in mind, these little people learned these somewhere and we can stress their unacceptability without condemning the child.
They hear everything
We know this, but it warrants reminding. When we whisper that can actually be a cue for little ears to tune in. This is why you’ll often hear a teacher actually lower their volume to get a classroom’s attention. So, not using profanity and impolite language is one way to keep it out of your child’s repertoire, but our homes are not the only place our children can be exposed. If you have an encounter when they hear something unacceptable, name it and classify it. “Sh**” is a word that is offensive and we don’t use that word.”
Control your reaction
Often a little person has heard something and is trying it out. Laughter and shock are natural reactions we might have, but can promote repeat performances. Whenever you can, keep your reaction neutral. This takes some of the power and glee out of using taboo words and can curtail their use much faster. Recently our kindergarten group was working as a team to dig trenches in the sandbox and re-route the water after a big rain. At some point they decided to create a stop for the water which lead them to shout encouragement to those constructing the barrier by chanting “Dam it! Dam it! Dam it!” Fortunately, the teachers knew exactly what was happening and we waited to chuckle til the children had gone home.
To sum up, keep it cool, reinforce the power of words for good, and write down some of the best stories for a smile later on.