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My Son My Teacher: Is Hate a Bad Word?

What happens when good children say bad words? What bad words can kids under the early years (birth to 6 years) learn and say? What should I respond & how should I react when my kid said a bad word in public!? What are the bad words children say and why? If kids talk like an adult, is it bad?

Have you thought of those questions?

I sure did! And as parents, we should.

I have to be honest that I don't have the Ph degree to answer all these questions. What I have instead, is a real story. And some of the learnings I've had so far from a simple question.  

If you search over the internet, stories like this are what you will most likely find. Authors about parenting books and psychologists encounter similar problems with their children.  The simple truth is, we cannot 100% shield our children from outside influences. More so now that we live in a connected world.

But we always try our best, right? Then pray that they will turn out all right.

And that is why I have this story...

One day, Lucas and I were bonding over Just Dance (the video game series by Ubisoft).  We came upon a song called "High Hopes" by Panic! At the Disco.

Lucas said, "Mommy! They said a bad word!"

I was singing the song but nothing flagged my foul word radar that there was one. So I asked him, what's the bad word? What is it?

As we listened to the rest of the song, I paid full attention. Then he heard it again, "that's it, mommy! he said 'HATE'! Hate is a bad word, right mommy?"

If you are not familiar with the song lyrics like I was, here it goes:

"Mama said don't give up, it's a little complicated.
All tied up, no more love and I'd hate to see you waiting."

I paused and thought for a while. My brain was thinking, "Is hate a bad word? How did he know it's a bad word? Did I tell him that? Hmmm... what should I say? Do I think hate is a bad word?"

Before I tell you my response, let me give you a background.

You see, we are a little strict on words in our household. He is 5 years old after all. Also, we taught Lucas that words are very powerful. It can hurt other people. He learned this lesson pretty well. So well that it became hard for him to say negative words. 
  • He will say that food tastes good even if it does not. How do we know what he thinks? We will ask him if he'd like to have it again. He will say, "Only this time. Not tomorrow."
  • He does not like ice cream. He's got sensitive gums since birth, but if you ask him if he likes ice cream, he will say he likes it.
  • If you give him a choice between people, he would NEVER choose one. He knows that if he chooses one, it will hurt the other.
That's why I was thinking very carefully about what to answer.  Although I try not to use this word and I don't want him to use it as well, I know most people do. I was careful because I know that if I say it is a bad word, then how will he react if he hears other people say it?

Hate is a strong word for disliking something, yet people often say it.  We say, "I hate rain!" Rather than saying, "I don't like rain." Some kids will say, "I hate vegetables!" Rather than saying, "I don't like vegetables."

In the song, he used it to express a mother's strong concern for his son (I'd hate to see you waiting - for your good fortune).

If it's true, why can't we say it? We are simply expressing our dislike with great emotion. No one harmed. No one got hurt.

When does saying the word hate become hurtful?

I guess, in the context of food.  If someone else prepared a dish, hearing you say you hate that dish will be offending. In the context of saying it to people, if you say you hate your neighbor because they have a noisy newborn baby. It doesn't sit right in our moral compass. 

Worst - hatred exists because of certain stereotypes with ethnicity, physical disability, or merely by the color of their skin. Then when people act on that hatred...

See? It's hard to explain all these to a 5-year old. 

What then if another kid says it to him?

There are things we don't allow him to say yet he often hears from other people like, "what the heck?" and "stupid". It won't be a surprise if he hears other people say hate too. I don't want Lucas to feel bad when other kids hate him only because he spilled a drink on them. Some kids find it hard to process their emotions.

So finally I told him:

"Baby, hate is not a bad word. It is a very strong word that may hurt other people. It is saying you don't like anything very much. But we should be careful when we use it. We should only reserve it for the things that are not actually likable, like the coronavirus."

Do you know what he said? He said, "Okay, so if two people like to open a door and then one person likes to open another door. Then, what will happen? It will be a billion and 100 billion..."

Yeah... he got it! Haha! 

I remember one time he surprised me when he said, "Only animals are fat, not people."  A long time ago, I lectured him about not using that word fat because it offends people.

I guess we will see how it goes. There will be other opportunities to teach him. 

From this simple question from Lucas, I noted to myself:

  • Be conscious about teaching him age-appropriate words. We don't want to baby them so we talk to them like adults. But when we hear them say some words back, it does not sound right. Words like, "I know, I know" or "Are you kidding me?". In Tagalog, he picks up the phrases like, "Tigilan mo ako!"
  • Provide him with a choice of words that are non-hurtful. By avoiding some hurtful words and by not saying it, we do not prepare them for the cruel world ahead. It's better to give them alternative words. Kind of like training them to give constructive feedback. UNICEF provided a resource pack to guide us on how to communicate better with children. In Part Five of the pack -Communicating with Children, they summarized some ways to avoid common pitfalls in developing communication for children. They presented ten tips for preventing pitfalls in a question-and-answer style.
  • When good kids say bad words. I will teach him that when some kids choose to say something bad, it doesn't mean they are bad kids. Kids get upset too.

  • Helping him deal with frustrations.  Since it is not a guarantee that he won't ever use the hate word. The best way is to help them process their emotions so that they will know a better way to deal with it better.
  • Words have the power to send positive emotional messages.  As a parent, we should always keep this in mind. Kids mirror our words and actions back. They will most likely be using these words to send out positive emotional messages to other people too.

The world is full of hate right now. As much as we want to show kids only love and positivity, the reality is that hate is all around them. Some people nurture negative things. 

It's in the song that they will hear. It's on the news when we watch TV. It's in the streets when we walk. It's even in a school despite all the rules.  

If it's your child who said a bad word to someone or keeps on using bad words. Then, It's a learning opportunity. A moment where you can teach them in their early years the good between bad.

Let's pay attention to what they are saying. Let's listen to their concerns. Let's ask them questions. Let's acknowledge their feelings.

I know it's a lot of pressure mom and dad, but we try our best right? 

And then, let's pray... pray that it will all turn out all right.

What do you guys think? Is hate a bad word? How will you teach your child about it?


UNICEF: While all children share some universal needs for a loving, supportive, and stimulating social and physical environment, their cognitive, emotional, physical, and social skills develop over time. Thus, as they grow and mature, their needs change, as do their abilities, interests, and challenges. this resource pack should facilitate the process of learning about the critical importance of communication that is age-appropriate and child-friendly, holistic, positive, strengths-based, and inclusive.  Communicating with Children -

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