I decided to try a swear jar for our family during Lent a few years ago. A swear jar is an idea that works for any family that needs to focus on kindness instead of negativity any time of year.
My goal with a swear jar was not so much traditional swear words. Instead, I wanted us to focus on removing the negative things we say to each other, sometimes without even thinking about it.
So the kids grabbed an old container, decorated it, and we put it right in the middle of the most active spot in the house: The kitchen table.
We began to fill that swear jar up in just two days!
All of our ugliness right out in the open on our kitchen table.
Photo by Tracie Ysaguire
Each time we caught ourselves or someone else in the family saying something unkind or negative to another person, we called out, "Swear Jar!" and then that person would write their name on a small slip of paper and place it in the jar.
The goal was, of course, to be the one who had the fewest pieces of paper with their name in the jar. We even took it a step further by adding a slip to the jar if we caught ourselves saying or thinking something unkind to ourselves.
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From a funny exercise to a serious change in behavior
When we first began this on Ash Wednesday, it seemed like it was all fun and games to "catch" each other in an act of unkindness or saying something negative.
But as we began to get deeper into Lent, I noticed how my kids were not only catching the negative words and interactions but were immediately changing what was being said or done.
They were becoming aware of how they were interacting with each other, especially as the paper began to pile up in the jar. Whether that was because they simply wanted to be the one with the least slips in the jar, or because they were truly trying to make a change in how they spoke to each other, I am not sure.
I can't say that the one with the fewest slips in the jar was the winner because, after this little experiment, I honestly felt like we all were.
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I found a swear jar a useful tool in teaching our kids that not only speaking bad words or ugly words to someone else is hurtful, but that it takes away from our own character.
We sometimes forget that the people who live under the same roof as we do are some of the most important relationships we have. It seems we can easily be unkind to the ones we love the most. A swear jar helped us become closer as a family and to show a little extra love to each other.
Doing this for the 40 days of Lent, we were able to learn that although we cannot control:
- The ugly things said about us or to us
- The past hurts we carry that plague our thoughts
- The way someone speaks to us
- How others treat us
... we can definitely control:
- How we respond to others
- How we think about others and work on forgiveness
- How we speak to others and ourselves
- How we treat others and ourselves
At the end of Lent, we had a family dinner to celebrate our Swear Jar, and then we destroyed the slips of paper with our names on them. We learned about forgiving others and forgiving ourselves, and that is always an important lesson to carry forward.
Tracie Ysaguire is the publisher for Macaroni KID New Iberia, La.