Teaching Kids Not to Swear

I swear. As in curse. Not as in promise. In fact, I avoid making promises because promises backfire.

“Finish up your chores and we’ll go get ice cream this afternoon,” I say.

“But do you promise you’ll take us to ice cream later?”

“No, I don’t promise. I intend to take you to ice cream. You almost certainly will get ice cream. But I definitely do not promise.”

“But WHY?”

“Because. If the zombie apocalypse arrives before we’re able to go to ice cream, I don’t want to have to bash in zombie heads to choruses of but you said you’d take us to ice cream. You PROMISED. That is distracting and unsafe, and, frankly, I don’t want to fight the zombies and you at the same time.”

So I don’t promise. It feels like the better part of wisdom.

But I do swear. Which is not the better part of wisdom but is sometimes soothing in a way using nice words isn’t. Words are typically used to express things, and some words express things better than others.

I do try to use appropriate words around my kids, though. And also around the elderly. And also at church. And also at school. And also around very, very nice people who don’t like to hear cussing. I call this Situational Awareness, and I try to teach it to my children.

But I have a mildly bad habit when it comes to playing games. Board games. Wii games. Card games. Competitive games of any sort. “CRAP!” I yell when things aren’t going my way. “CrapCrapCrapCrapCRAP!” Which certainly isn’t awful and isn’t necessarily swearing depending on your culture and whether or not you were raised by a Marine, but it’s not exactly nice, either, and when your 6-year-old sons start to mimic you by hollering “CRAP!” and its close cousin “CRAPPITY CRAP!” at the top of their lungs every single time they get a bad draw in UNO, you might, like me, start to wonder if you need to do a tiny bit of remedial training lest they arrive at Grandma’s house or at school and give away your less-than-stellar example.

So we played UNO this morning, and we brainstormed crappy alternatives. I suggested we might learn to say things like:

OH, MAN
or
OH, NO

But they thought it would be better if we chose:

FART
or
BURP
or
BUTT
or
STINKY POOP

And when I rejected those, they decided on:

PENIS
or
VAGINA
or, when things are particularly bad, the ever popular
PENIS VAGINA

So that’s settled. I cannot WAIT for the next time we get to play UNO at Grandma’s house or, you know, for 1st Grade Field Day when they lose the 100 meter dash. That is going to be AWESOME.

And now it’s time for the And Thens.

And then, in a fit of optimism, I congratulated myself in front of my eldest daughter and my husband for not teaching the littles to say anything worse than crap.

And then my eldest daughter and my husband laughed at me.

And then I asked them why they were laughing.

And then they said I probably have taught the littles something worse than crap and I might be deluding myself a teeny, tiny bit.

And then I said, “No, I haven’t. I’ve been very careful.”

And then they said, “Prove it.”

And then I said to a 6-year-old, “What is the very worst word mama’s ever said?”

And then he put his pointer finger up in the air in the universal I-know-this-one gesture and said, “Ummmmm… shit.”

And then my eldest daughter and my husband – bless their hearts – Could. Not. Stop. Laughing.

PENIS VAGINA.

But then my 6-year-old said, “It’s OK, Mom. I know to never, ever say a word that bad.”

In conclusion, I have taught my son Situational Awareness! Sort of. But, frankly, I’ll take “sort of” over “not at all” any day of the week.

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photo (60)Share ’em if you’ve got ’em. What have your kids said (taught by you or otherwise) that makes you afraid to take your family out in public?

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
45 comments
  1. […] b) I’m a bad influence on small children, who tend to learn new and exciting words, like shit, in my presence, and c) my family is simultaneously running a betting pool to see when our new pet […]

  2. a few months back, we were at our pastor’s house having dinner with him and his wife to talk about the upcoming baptisms for our boys, a baby and a preschooler.

    our three-year-old is at that age where he likes rhyming sounds, so he’ll sit around and say rhyming words while he’s playing. often, he starts the series with a real word, but just makes up nonsense rhyming “words” based on the first real word in the list.

    so…back to the pastor’s house. we were eating dessert and he had already left the table and was playing nearby and began his little rhyming game, this time starting with CORN [you see where this is going, right? of course right.]:”corn, morn, born…something, something…PORN…”

    the adults were all engrossed in conversation, but of course he said it really loud (was it just our imaginations, or did he say it louder than anything else in the sequence?) and our pastor’s wife (did i mention they do not have any kids?) was immediately like, “did he just say PORN?” and just how, oh how, do you explain THAT one? “well, ah, you see, it SOUNDED like he said porn, but really it was just nonsense, he has never heard that word before, he was just inventing a sound!” (we SWEAR, we SWEAR!)”

  3. I have twin boys (now 11 years old) with receptive/expressive speech delays and auditory processing deficits. It’s always cause for celebration when they learn new words, particularly if they learn the words’ correct usage. When they were in third grade, someone on their school bus taught them an impressive list of curse words, which they not only remembered, but learned to pronounce correctly, and even got the gist of how they “should” be used. Then they taught them to their then 2-year-old sister!

    One night, one of the boys was having a temper tantrum up in his room on the third floor of our house and it was really bugging his little sister (2yo at the time). The little blonde pixie princess that she is, she stood on the 2nd floor landing and started yelling up the stairs at him: “Shut the f*** up! Shut the f*** up!” over and over and over. We couldn’t get her to stop and were trying so hard not to laugh so that we wouldn’t encourage her.

    Fast forward 2 years. Our now 4 year old daughter is not cooperating getting ready for bed one night, so I asked her to stop playing and get with the program. Her response: “What the f***?” I asked her to repeat herself and she said, so sweetly: “Nothing.” Aren’t older brothers great?

  4. My 3.5 year old has witnessed some of my…um…tirades on birth culture and medical practice as I prepare to qualify as a midwife, and now, whenever I raise my voice and sound like I’m angry in a conversation with another adult, I can count on him to chime in, at the first available opening, with “Yeah! Dey jus’ DOUCHE-BADS!”.

    Which is probably a totally inappropriate profanity for a birth worker, actually.

  5. My husband, having spent 5 years in the Marine Corps, finds he has to censor himself ALL THE TIME around the little people. He thought he had done a really good job. Then one day he broke something (can’t remember what it was) and exclaimed, “SON OF A!” Our daughter, who was 2 at the time, chimed in from across the room “son of a bitch! son of a bitch! son of a bitch!” (you have to imagine a tiny sweet toddler girl voice, it was absolutely adorable). In the realm of Marine Corps cussing, I’d say we got lucky that this was the worst we’ve heard come out of the kids’ mouths… 🙂

  6. my 2 year old really likes “Super Why”, and one of the tools on the show is a “why writer”, and when my 2 year old can’t get your attention, she wont stop yelling whatever it is that she thinks is so important. So, all through the store she was yelling, “why writer”, which sounds a lot like a 2 year old yelling “vibrator”…especially when you have no idea what a “why writer” is.
    “VIBRATOR!! VIBRATOR!! VIBRATOR!!”

  7. I was in the kitchen and broke a plate or something and yelled “shoot” My two year old replies “Mama, broke it?” “Yeah buddy I broke it.” to which he replies, “Oh d*mn it!” At least its only when things go wrong, oops!

  8. My hubby and I disagree what is OK to say and what is not. Even though he has been known to drop some serious cuss words in anger – I honestly think he does that to get *MY* reaction. I’ve even heard him cuss in his sleep. One of the dangers of sleep talking. Anyway – kids, they pick up on this reeeaal fast and know that with mom “crap””turd””crud” is perfectly acceptable and with dad don’t even use “hate”. But – strangely enough, “poop” is the phrase of the day. Especially with my 5yr old boy. He uses it *exactly* as one would use the *S* one. Dude.

  9. My seven-year-old was singing a little rhyming song to herself last week. “Bit, sit, pit, shit…? Wait, shit isn’t a word…” My husband and I both left the room in hysterics as she continued happily on, “Fit, hit, spit…”

    1. Lucky! And hilarious.

  10. Even though I try not to, an occasional swear word will slip in front of my boys. My almost-eight-year-old is quite fond of saying “crap” and also likes to say, “What the….” which is less-than-desirable. He has been known to use my favorite word (sh*t) appropriately, and refers to “bad” drivers as idiots (even though I’ve explained how disrespectful it is to refer to another human being as an idiot). All of these he has learned directly from me. The best (worst) part is… I am the school counselor at his elementary school. In the grocery store just last week, my three-year-old asked if we could get ice cream. When I said yes, he looked heaven-ward and responded in his loudest voice,”Thank you, Lord Jesus!” Amen.

  11. I actually don’t ever swear, because I don’t like it, not even substitute swear words. And my sweet husband doesn’t either, because he knows I don’t like it. However, one Christmas, when we were engaged, he was over visiting me and my family, and my Mom asked him to straighten our Christmas tree, because he’s very tall so it would be easier for him. He accidentally broke and ornament and swore. Then he said oops, and said a substitute swear word. Then he said, “no, that doesn’t work either. SORRY LOVE!!!”

  12. Also. A four year old who shall remain nameless because his mom reads this blog yesterday was overheard pulling a book out at the library, “Thank GOD they have this one!”. Which really isn’t so bad! I thank God for books every day! But it did sound hilarious.

  13. If my mother believes a game of Scrabble is getting boring, we are only allowed to use swear words or sex terms. So you’re more appropriate than her…

    PS Try being a freshman at Wheaton College after growing up in that family. Hello culture shock!

  14. When the oldest of our nieces on MY side of the family got in trouble for saying ‘shit’ in daycare at age 2, we were all rather proud of her. And when my daughter corrected me for saying ‘Oh, God!’, i agreed we should not say it in front of Mai Mai (Melissa’s mom); but I pointed out that on my side, she’s descended from a long line of blasphemers. I told her she didn’t have to say it herself, but she needed to respect our culture.

    The first time my daughter said a swear word, however, it was in imitation of Melissa (snicker, smirk) though Melissa was definitely the longshot.

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