“Goodnight, you old bad guy.”  Not only did I cringe when I heard it, I corrected him. “Goodnight, you old bad guy” is what my 4 year old son said to a good family friend of ours, Alex, a young man who frequently visits my parents home. Instantly I said, “Wesley, that is disrespectful language. You say, ‘goodnight Alex’.” I could see both a bit of embarrassment and confusion on his face and I remember thinking, “I feel like I just hurt his feelings.” I hate that feeling. I hate feeling as if I’ve hurt my child…I think all moms do. He looked over at me sort of puzzled as to why he was being corrected and I too felt a little awkward. I mean after all, he had just spent the last 15 minutes playing with Mr. Alex in a game of “Let’s capture him! Yes, let’s get the bad guys. You go over there and I’ll go over here. I’ll get you, bad guy!” He was simply saying goodnight to his pal who had been playing the “bad guy”. For Wes, “goodnight you old bad guy” was in no way an insult, but a serious term of endearment.

Most of us know now from research the importance of rough play for boys, but what about boy language? Play and language are very different forms of communication, but both are equally important!

Why did I feel the need to correct Wes’s language? I had not corrected his play with Mr. Alex, so why the language? If the roles were reversed and I was raising a little girl and she has just finished playing princesses and tea parties with Alex’s wife Ashley, and then as she walked off to bed said, “Goodnight my beautiful princess” I would have said, “Oh honey, that is so sweet.” I would never have corrected that, but with a Wes, my testosterone filled, sword carrying, bad guy slaying kid, I immediately felt the need to discipline him. 

This same scenario can play out in other areas. When at Target, as we roll by others in the aisles he will say, “Hey look at my sword! It is so cool. It shoots out knock-out darts.” I feel this uneasiness as I look at the other person not knowing if they have boys or understand boys…I immediately feel uncomfortable and say, “Wesley, honey, just say hi.” Then I feel torn between wanting him to be able to share what he wants to share, but not wanting to scare the people off in Target with all of our weapon paraphernalia conversations. But then again, if it was a girl, and she had brought in her American girl doll and said, “Do you see my new doll? This is Kirsten. I love her and I take really good care of her!” I wouldn’t feel the need to correct her at all. I would simply smile and wait for the kind response from the other bystander.

There is a hard line to find between disrespectful language and simple boy language. I will always correct the times of disrespectful statements, but mainly I’ve decided that from this point forward, I will be changing a few of the things I discipline. 

I will encourage this fabulous manliness in him, for I want that verbal masculinity to thrive inside his boyhood. This is in his very design by his Creator. Some of the godliest men in scripture were the finest warriors and therefore used warrior speech: Joshua, David, Solomon, just to mention a few. God’s wiring for men is to bravely protect and to powerfully lead.  I will whole-heartedly support his desire to be strong, to conquer, to defend and to battle as a true soldier. It is in his very God-given nature to become these attributes and I will encourage his use of words that match that play. 

I will have conversations about bad guys and kings, top secret plans and rescue missions.  We will wrestle. We will fight with swords. We will play with sling shots, bows and arrows, and pretend knives. He will jump off things at the risk of getting hurt, get dirty in the mud and strut across the yard after saving a girl from a bad guy and I will allow all of our communication to depict that. 

I want him to be a hard working, respectful, socially adapted kid so that he grows into a hard working, respectful, socially adapted man.  And sometimes that means allowing him to say things like, “Good night you old bad guy” or stopping the random stranger at Target to say, “Do you want to see my sword? I get Darth Vader with this sword.” And just allowing the people to play back. If they’ve never had a boy and don’t know how to respond, then I will do my best to help them. I will enjoy every fun-loving boy comments we engage in together. 

And at the end of the day, this is exactly who I want him to become spiritually.  I want to raise a mighty, trust worthy, righteous protector. I want him to become a vigorous warrior for the Lord. I want to strengthen those attributes within my little man so that when he is older, he will know that those attributes specifically make him who he is: a loyal man who wears the armor of God every day.

Sweet Wesley, I was wrong to correct you for the way you said goodnight. So to you Alex, Wes and I both say, “Goodnight you old bad guy,” for that is his way of saying, “I had a great time Mr. Alex. Thanks for playing! Until next time…”

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