How is Toothpaste Like Your Tongue?

Why Words Can't be Taken Back
Here's a fun way to help kids visualize and remember that words can't really be taken back.

Have your child grab a tube of toothpaste (for this exercise, I bought a tube at the Dollar Tree; any brand will do) and cover a table with a plastic tablecloth. Tell him to squeeze all the toothpaste out of the tube and onto the cloth. In my experience, kids think this is loads of fun. (After all, all their life they've been told not to use too much toothpaste or squirt it all over the bathroom counter!)

When he is all done, listen to the squeals as you tell him: "Now, put the toothpaste back in the tube!" If you want to up the ante, you can offer a monetary reward or a special privilege if he can complete this (impossible) task.

When your child gives up, say:

"The toothpaste is like your tongue. Once words come from your tongue, it's impossible to get them back inside your mouth. That's why we have to be careful what we say. You may wish you could take words back, but you really can't. Hurtful words, once out of your mouth, stay out."

Then look up some Bible passages together about taming the tongue; here are some to get you started:

"Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble." Prov. 21:23

"Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing." Prov. 12:18

"Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut." Prov. 10:19

"Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips." Ps. 141:3

"If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. " James 1:26

"Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them." Eph. 4:29

"If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies." 1 Pet. 3:10

"Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself." James 3:2-6

"A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare." Prov. 15:1

"Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent." Prov. 17:28

"[For there is] A time to be quiet and a time to speak." Ecc. 3:7

When I originally did this project with my kids, my oldest was just 5. She loved the exercise, and afterward, any time her tongue started saying something it shouldn't, all I had to say was "Toothpaste!" Now my oldest is a teen and this exercise is a dim memory for her. Given how tongue-vicious our society is these days, I think it's a great time to re-do this valuable life lesson with both my children.

A version of this post originally appeared in April of 2011.


  1. I need to start telling myself "Toothpaste!"

  2. What a wonderful idea!!!!! that could even work in a class!!! :D he he