Every parent is horrified when his or her child says a bad word or speaks lashon hara. But before we run to get the soap, we should realize that children learn from a young age to repeat events, stories, and words they hear, and to report all the happenings in school. As the child gets older, he may not have developed the sensitivity to know when to guard his tongue and when to speak.
Since parents are obligated to teach their children that it’s forbidden to speak lashon hara, this education should begin as soon as the child reaches understanding. How can this be achieved?
- Model the behavior. If your children hear you gossiping on the phone, you can be sure that it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be doing the same. Always say “please” and “thank you” in your home when it’s appropriate. Practice speaking nicely of others and giving the benefit of the doubt, even when it’s a challenge.
- Get your children accustomed to thinking and speaking nicely about others. One of the “games” I used to play with my kids when they were younger was to pick a child, and we’d all say one complimentary thing about him. Then we’d repeat the process with the next child and the next.
- Teach your children positive language skills by asking them, “What are some nice things you could say to someone? What would you want someone to say to you?” Or “How would it feel if someone said _____?”
- Teach your children to resist the urge to speak negatively. If your child says a bad word, you can say, “We don’t speak like that,” or “It’s not befitting for a boy like you to speak that way.” Show your children other areas of their life where they can exert self-control. Explain to them that our mouth is holy, since we use it to say brachos, and we don’t want to make it dirty by saying things that aren’t nice.
- Praise your children when they get it right! When Yossi tells you about the boy in school who doesn’t do his homework, compliment him for having withheld his name. “I’m so glad that you didn’t speak lashon hara by telling me his name because that would be forbidden.”
- Listen selectively. If your children persist in saying bad words or telling you forbidden things, cover your ears and tell them how much your ears hurt! Let them know how much you love talking with them, but remind them that the words have to be kosher.
- Study the halachos of shmiras halashon. There are many books for both children and adults that teach the halachos and give over the message of how important it is to guard your tongue. Read a book together or study it alone, but show your children how important it is to watch what we say.
Leah Chana Rubabshi is a social worker and a writer. She is the author of A Rainbow World, The Hidden Artist, and A Kosher Fish Tale. Her latest book, Who Is the King? is a Midrashic tale about the power of the tongue. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.