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. When my son was about three, we were trying to leave the house for something. I had the baby in the carrier, ready to go and the three year old in his shoes ready to go. I was rushing around, trying to gather whatever I needed for our day out. The three year old waited patiently for a few minutes before huffing, “Let’s go, *itch.” I was certain I could not have heard him correctly, so I asked him to repeat himself…and it came out again, clear as day.

    I still have no idea where he might have picked up that little gem. We try to keep our language mostly clean around the kids, but are known to drop a foul word when it’s really needed. Even so…that phrase has never crossed my lips or my husband’s. Mind-boggling.

  2. The other week my four-year-old walks into the house and smells dinner cooking.
    Four: “It smells like CRAP in here!”
    My husband and I look at each other.
    Me: WHAT!”
    Four: “Uh. Good! I meant it smells good. I always get those two mixed up.”

    1. LOL Your story reminded me of a conversation between a co-worker and her 5 y.o. daughter. She told the child to go clean her room and the child said, “Wait.” My co-worker stopped, turned around, and said, “WHAT did you say to me?” To which the child replied, “I said ‘wait’, Mommy. That’s Spanish for ‘I’m going to go do it right now!” LOL

  3. My son very proudly exclaimed to his grandma one day that he had learned to spell a new word. He commented that it began with f and ended with k, and that his teacher was very surprised he could spell it. We waited with baited breath as he spelled f-i-r-e-t-r-u-c-k. 🙂

  4. Things I admit I have actually said to one or five of my children:

    “No dancing on the table unless you’re getting paid for it!”

    “You’re all a bunch of parasites and you’re sucking the life right out of me!” (which my son , then 11 years old, replied: “Mom, I don’t think you’re going to win mother-of-the year.”)

    My oldest, Amelia, now has 2 children of her own and admits that the 2nd comment may have been partially to blame for her need for prozac.

  5. My 11 year old says CRAP! with alarming regularity, and still doesn’t really have situational awareness. However, at the mall yesterday, while eating ice cream, a very ‘questionable’ young man screamed the f word while talking with his friends, and my daughter visibly blanched. Good to know some things are still off limits.

  6. For reals though, the promising thing. SO true.

  7. “Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” Mark Twain

    I rest my case.

  8. My 4-year old girl hasn’t learned any swears from me, but she does know some questionable lyrics. The latest one I’ve had to slowly train out is AM60’s “Treble, bass, and midrange… alcohol, love and pain…” which she sings sweetly and gleefully to the amusement of her two older siblings.
    My favorite replacement swear: Sand-blasted redwood! That one can be yelled with any amount of anger.

    1. Aaah, lyrics have done it in our house, too! Our 5 yr old son sometimes listens to his 15 yr old sis’s ipod. At preschool one day he began singing the “Lazy” song, “today I’m not doin’ anything……. just have some really nice s**” UGH!!! Teacher thought it was pretty funny/ amazing that he knew all the words, but I was completely embarrassed and humiliated. Hit “delete” on that song! I shouldn’t be listening to that garbage, let alone my 5 yr old or 15 yr old!

  9. One day I was having a rough one. Things didn’t go right all day and DH sent me to the junk yard to exchange the rear window they gave him which was the wrong one. I NEEDED a spot close to the entrance so I could get the blasted thing in the office. And lucky for me there was a spot. Right. There. Until a guy sped around me and took it. So I called him a jerk. My then 4 YO started asking questions about “the jerk” so I explained how I chose a bad word…etc and I was really just frustrated about my day. When we got out of the car she started shouting, “Mama, where’s the jerk? I don’t see him. He’s not getting out of the car. Where IS that jerk?!” I was mortified.

  10. Ha! I use “fart” as an expletive around my 6th grade students… but that’s probably because it’s soooo close to the word I really want to say. Penis Vagina is a pretty good alternative– but I’m concerned it may get me fired. Great post!

  11. My four year old’s preschool teacher came to me laughing so hard one day.
    He had banged his foot into the train table really hard & yelled out “d*mn!”
    When she told him that was a bad word & he couldn’t say that at school, he said “Well, what about ‘sh*t.’ Can I say that one then?”

  12. This is Laugh-out-loud hilarious! I have 4 boys and their answer is ALWAYS to use words referring to farts, poop, or anything with body parts. Too funny!

  13. My son is 28 now, but when he was 5 or 6, he told my mom, “Mema, I know ALL the cuss words. I know the A word and the B word and the C word.” My mom was shocked, especially about the “c” word. She asked him what that word was. He said, “Oh, I’m not allowed to say those words. My mom will be real mad and I’ll get in trouble.” It took some work, but my mom finally convinced him that it was ok for him to whisper it in her ear just once, and the she wouldn’t tell his mom (me). So he leans over and whispered it in her ear… “shit”. He’s still not a good speller. LOL

    1. Now THAT would be a fun game – The ABC swear word – how far down the alphabet can you think of a cuss word? I get stuck on E – unless someone wants to count “Egghead”

    2. Now *that* would be a fun game – The ABC’s of Cuss Words . . . . how far down the alphabet can you get? I get to E and have to go with “Egghead”

  14. Bahahha. It is amazing the things my kids have had the wisdom to NOT repeat, when I have not had the wisdom to not say them in the first place.

    I gotta tell you this one though. We were having yet another chat about Stranger Danger, because my son loves everyone he has ever met, and usually told them so. So we have regular Stranger Danger chats, which sometimes end in debates and me wondering if I’ve really done all I can or if I should just put a 4 year old into one of those baby backpacks with leashes, lol. ANYWAY, in this conversation, I told my kiddos never to go with a stranger, never eat or drink something from a stranger without my okay, and that if anyone tries to TAKE you, you need to scream all you want, even indoors, even when they tell you not to, etc. I told him he doesn’t have to use nice words in those situations, you can use loud bad words. He hesitated a moment and asked, “Tit?” Like this was what you say when you’re not using nice words, maybe even The Worst Word To Say. I don’t think he knows what it is, except that in his attempts to make up words in the past, he said tits, and I said, NO. BAD. Or something.

    Then it occurred to me that maybe I should be teaching him some REALLY terrible words just to scream when he’s in danger. Because how quickly will people stop and look when someone screams terrible obscenities (er, F—!!!) compared to a HELP. If I were a more courageous woman, I would conduct an experiment to find out which word I should actually be teaching my child when in danger, but I don’t see that happening…

  15. I am absolutely not innocent in this arena, but I’m going to pretend that I am and instead share my favorite story about my niece Taylor. She is my SIL Laura’s oldest and Laura was still bad about letting colorful language fly. When Taylor first began speaking, she would leave the first consonant sound off of every word– her name was ‘aylor’, she would put on her ‘ocks and oes’ (and my personal favorite), my husband, Rod, was ‘Uncle od.’ You get the idea. One day Laura let the dog in without realizing it was muddy. The dog promptly shook, splattering mud everywhere. Sweet, little two year old Taylor shook her head and said, “-at -ucking -og!”

    This story has become a family classic. If our dog misbehaves, Rod or I will often mutter to the other, “at ucking og!”

  16. In trying to avoid saying something else – I said, “Shoot.” But that wasn’t enough, so I said, emphatically, “Poop!” But, I was still upset, so I repeated it a couple of times for good measure. My children roared with laughter – visualizing the image should someone actually get angry enough to “shoot poop!”

  17. I try, but am not always successful at, curbing my swearing around my 2 and 4 year olds. The other day I dropped something and caught myself as I said “son of a…”. Just as I was congratulating myself on stopping, two little voices chorused “BITCH!” Oops.

  18. My son has FOR SURE picked up “Shut up!” from me, and recently all the “-uck” words he says (buck, truck, cluck, etc) start with an F. I want to blame this on someone else but I know that when I get particularly upset, I have a tendency to say f*ck, so it’s probably my fault.

  19. Why just this morning this was my status update:
    Already missed the bus, then tried to quickly make my breakfast smoothie so we can get out the door already, immersion blender stopped working so I said, “SHIT” and now three little kids are bouncing around the living room singing, “Shit! It was ninety-nine cents!”

  20. My brother and sister-in-law have never been careful around their kids. They don’t swear like sailors either, but when words come out, oh well. The other day their 4 yr old was at grandma’s house and she had added a couple new toys to the bin. He pulled one out and while examining it blurts out “What the hell?!?” My mother-in-law thought it was the funniest thing! And was sure impressed it was done in the right context!

  21. My soon-to-be-4 year old went through a phase a few months ago where he would say (more than a couple times in public, and always loudly), “you are an old ass!…hole!” As if the first part wasn’t bad enough. That one wasn’t from me at least 🙂

  22. I discovered when I was teaching that my “Oh shoot!” was occasionally mistaken for something much worse by people who couldn’t hear me, but could “sort of” read lips.

    I think I’m hiding the UNO game now. But wait, we might need more entertainment options when you’re here next. I’d better leave it in a prominent place.

  23. When my son was 5, he saw me run toward the dryer for my church clothes, eye the clock over the mantle, and shout, “Oh, CRAP!” As I exited the laundry room, buttoning and grabbing for shoes, my little boy was examining the mantle. He said, “I just HATE it when our wall has a crack!”

    Dodged a bullet that day, thanks to a bad drywall job around the fireplace.

  24. my son picked up oh G-D somewhere along the way. NOT one I can/will/do accept in my mouth or my children’s. We taught him to say oh DINOSAUR EGGS” instead. He was somewhere in the area of 5 at the time.

    he is 11 now. he came to me the other day saying “when I’m worked up about something, I say “oh dinosaur eggs’ and I can’t figure out WHY… do YOU know???”

    His older sister and I about spewed our drinks and then explained it to him. LOL

  25. I am particularly guilty of a mumbled “Oh, shit.” when something goes completely awry. With that admission comes the one where we are currently trying to convince the now 2-year old that, instead of muttering “Oh, shit”, she could choose to say “Ocean” Or “shoot!” Or anything other than “Oh, shit.” Just in case she ever uses it in public.

    Away from her ears, we totally give her credit that she only uses it in the most appropriate situations. And so far, only at home. Hence our desire to transform it to something else.

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