Swearing around Kids

Archived Q&A and Reviews

What's your rule about parents swearing?

Feb 2008

My husband and I am are potty mouths. We use swear words as adjectives (rather than explictatives) and hadn't given it much thought... until now. Our 3-year old heard me say the S word the other day at the park when I caught one of my twins climbing up something she couldn't possibly climb and I ran over to save her. My son thought it was hilarious and laughed and laughed about it, repeating the word over and over. That night we had a nice discussion about ''bad'' words and how it was wrong of mommy to say that word. My husband and I continued the conversation after the kids were alseep. My husband thinks that we should simply tell the kids not to ever, ever use bad words. I think, because we use them, that it would hypocritcal to do that and we should tell them that it's not okay to say those words to other people, but in our house it's ok. My husband thinks that's too nuanced for a 3-year old, let alone the 17 month olds and it would be easier to simply have a zero tolerance rule. So...my questions is: If you have anything more than a zero tolerance rule about swearing in your household, can you let me know what worked for your family? THANKS!

What the f---?! You're swearing around your kids??!! :) In all seriousness, we feel your pain. Same issues, 4 year old son. We do an in between. We say ''This is a word that could make someone feel bad, and so you should not use it. Mommy is also trying not to use it.'' When I slip and say the F or S word, I say ''Ooops. I didn't mean to say that. I don't want to use that word.'' And we have tried, very hard, to stop swearing ourselves.

We don't say: ''This is a bad word, you should *never* use it.'' We don't like that approach because it feels hypocritical, it heightens the weight of these words in an inappropriate way, and we aren't so into the whole bad/good thing. What is a ''bad word'', anyhow? We think its better to say ''this word could hurt someone's feelings''. That is something our son understands, and is motivating to him. It is also an accurate description of how profanity can be used, and is often viewed.

We also don't say: ''This word is ok in our house, but not outside.'' We don't like that approach bcs its too confusing, and bcs, honestly, I don't enjoy hearing my son swearing either. Plus, we as thoughtful adults don't even always make the right call on when its ok (e.g., have you ever thrown an F-bomb at work and thought, ''wow, shouldn't have said that''?) Seems unrealistic to think a 4 year old could figure this one out.

Note, on Wallace and Gromit a robot says 'Oh, knickers''. Our son saw this, and then he and his cousins kept saying ''knickers, knickers, knickers''. Hearing it, we realized that the word could be mistaken for the ''n'' word. We told him this word sounded a lot like a word that could really hurt someone's feelings, and so we didn't want to hear him say it again. And we were actually pretty stern about that. Told him he could say ''underwear'' or ''skivvies'' or something else (that's what knickers are), but that he could not say knickers. Some words have the potential to really hurt someone's feelings. I think 4 year olds get that. reforming sailor

In our house, we don't believe in distinguishing words as ''bad'' or ''good.'' Rather, we've told our kids that words are either ''appropriate'' or ''inappropriate.'' We have explained to our daughters that some words are simply not appropriate for a five y.o. to say. That gives us the leeway to use the words as adults if and when we need to. I swear (no pun intended!) that my husband uses the ''F'' word every third word when he gets upset (and sometimes he's not even upset - but I digress!) but to my knowledge, our six y.o. has never said it, because she knows it would be inappropriate for her to do so. Our 16 y.o. uses explicatives, I know, because I've seen them written on her MySpace page, but she would never use them in front of any other adult, because she too knows that would be inappropriate. But teenagers will use them, and I feel that taking the label of ''bad'' of of these words, like anything else takes some of the glamour or excitement of using them away. It also keeps us as parents from being the hypocrites you don't want to be. likes to say *b'