“Bad Words” and Staying Safe (6:09)
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Welcome to the People Safety Podcast from Kidpower, teaching advocacy, boundary setting, and other personal safety skills for building happier lives and stronger relationships! I’m Erika Leonard with another Kidpower People Safety Tip.
There was a girl – let’s call her Sara — who had a safety problem. During lunchtime at her school, some other kids were saying things that felt hurtful. They were using what her teachers and her parents called “bad words.” She had tried different ways to solve the problem herself, but it seemed to be getting bigger every day, and she just didn’t feel safe.
At Kidpower, we’ve found that calling some words ‘good’ and some words ‘bad’ can get confusing and doesn’t seem to help people build People Safety skills, so we don’t usually label words as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but lots of people do.
And, the truth is that using any words at all to be hurtful is not OK, whether you call them ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or anything else. And, it’s not OK to use words in a hurtful way at any time or in any place: during recess, at lunch, before school, after school, at home, out in the world, online, or in email or in text messages. Hurtful words can make people feel scared, hurt, or upset.
But, lots of times, kids like Sara who are upset by words decide not to tell adults about the problem. Different things make it hard for kids to tell adults about problems, but one reason kids don’t tell about hurtful words is that they just don’t know HOW to start the conversation. That’s why Sara wasn’t telling anyone about her problem.
Sara knew it was not OK to say the words that the kids were saying to her at lunch, and lots of times her parents and teachers seemed really uncomfortable or even a little angry when they talked about those particular words. In fact, the adults in Sara’s life were like lots of adults: they were careful not even to say some of these words at all when they were talking about them. They would sort of hint at the words by calling them by their first letters, and then kind of talk around them or sort of about them… but they wouldn’t actually SAY them.
So, it’s no surprise that, on her own, Sara decided that allowing those “bad words” to come out of her mouth for any reason, even to get help from her adults, would mean that she is a “bad person”, and that’s not true.
Saying to an adult, “I need help. It’s about safety. I need to tell you what kids are saying at lunch,” and then saying the words you heard so that the adults know the whole story…. That is NOT being a ‘bad person.’ That’s being a strong, powerful, confident person who is showing leadership by taking charge of safety.
Saying any word because you want to understand it, to get help, or to learn how to be safe if someone is using that word as a tool to hurt you is NOT the same as using that word to hurt someone else.
Kids can feel safer at school, in their communities, and at home when they have a way to talk about any words they hear with adults they trust for the purpose of being safe and getting help. This is easier if they have confidence that the adults will be able to hear what they are saying and stay relaxed, calm, confident, and helpful.
Adults have the power to help kids with this by taking the lead. They can model how they, as adults, can talk responsibly and respectfully about hurtful words in a way that is calm and confident and that shows how they can take the power out of those words and be safe.
They can model being able to say those words out loud NOT TO HURT but in order to discuss them in a way that’s clear and confident, to help people be safe.
They can take the lead in having conversations with kids about how people use words in general and how each of us has the power to keep our feelings safe no matter what other people are saying. They can help kids practice skills to be safe from words, to use their own words responsibly, and to get help when they need it.
These conversations are a great way to build trust, deepen connections between adults and kids, and show kids firsthand that good people can say what they need to say in order to be safe and get help.
If you are a kid, and hurtful words are bothering you, but you’re not sure how to start getting help, you can try what Sara decided to do. She said to her teacher, “I have a safety problem. People are using hurtful words, but I feel uncomfortable saying them. Please help me.” The teacher did help, and she felt much better.
Adults, if you find that you really are uncomfortable saying certain words even when it’s about safety, remember – that feeling is NORMAL, and it can change, and it doesn’t have to stop you from learning skills that can help you and people you care for use your full power to be safe with words.
For more People Safety tips, visit kidpower.org, and remember, in everything you do, stay safe, act wisely, and of course, believe in yourself!