When Emma and Carolyn were babies I couldn't wait for the days when they could talk. Instead of screaming every time they wanted something, I longed for the moment when they could say, "May I please have a cracker." In my little dream world, it never dawned on me that the request would probably sound something more like "Give me a cracker! I'm hungry!" Somehow, bickering and insulting one another never made it into my dreams either.
However, this is the reality in most homes with more than one child. Almost from the time siblings can speak, they argue with one another. Sometimes I think my kids enjoy arguing with each other. While a bit of sibling discord is to be expected in any household that contains siblings, you can take those moments of discord and turn them into a two-minute lesson on how words are powerful and can sometimes hurt more than a punch in the arm.
The next time your kids start flinging mean words at each other, call a halt and give them each a travel size tube of toothpaste and a paper plate. Let each kid squeeze all the toothpaste out of her tube onto the plate (they will love doing this). When they have all the toothpaste on the plate, tell your kids to put the toothpaste back in the tube. They will look at you like you are crazy. Talk with them about how our words are like the toothpaste -- once they are out of our mouths, we can't put them back in, so we need to be careful with what we say.
Share with your children James 3:5-6: "Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." Our tongue is like a spark in a dry forest. It can cause a large fire that can't be put out if we are not careful with what we say.
Another great verse to use with your kids is Ephesians 4:29: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." My kids have memorized this verse, and when I hear them hurling insults at each other or speaking in a disrespectful manner, I ask them to tell me the verse. Then I ask them if what they were saying was useful for building others up. Usually the answer is no. The great part about this method is that it's not me telling them to use respectful speech, it's God. His Word becomes the teacher.
This is something that we are working hard on in our house this summer. But that means I have to watch how I use my words, too, because children learn what they see and hear. I can tell them to use respectful speech all I want, but if I'm not doing it, my words are worthless. Let your children know that you are working on your speech and you want them to hold you accountable as well. Work together as a family to improve everyone's speech, and you'll find it draws you all closer to each other and to God.