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Our toddler is like a parrot.
A highly selectively mimicking parrot.
Someone will give him, say, a piece candy. I’ll ask him to say thank you, and he just stares at me blankly.
When I stop short while driving because the idiot in front of me slammed on his brakes for no effing reason and I yell out an obscenity (or two… or three… and a threat maybe?) he can copy me so perfectly clearly, with such excellent diction, you’d think he’d been practicing.
It’s, um, fascinating. And a little exhausting. And also a little hilarious, but that’s beside the point.
But it’s definitely not just me that struggles with watching what I say. The phrase “swears like a sailor” can definitely be extended to “swears like a cop”. My husband retains a lot of his old habits from law enforcement, which get a lot more pronounced when he hangs out with friends still on the force.
It’s part of the vernacular of the job, whether I’m a fan of it or not. I can’t blame him, either: on his worst days, “darn it” just doesn’t cover it.
Regardless, our son’s penchant for copying the worst of the things we say has made us think twice about how we speak at home.
At his current age, it’s harder to deal with, because he really doesn’t understand yet. He’s just barely learning to speak, and it’s so cute we end up inadvertently encouraging it because we die laughing while we say, “No, don’t say that!” So he gets some mixed messages there. And he’s such a ham he loves making us laugh – so there we are.
But we’ve thought a lot about how we’re going to deal with it when we’re older. And yes, we’re both going to work on watching our mouths (Hey, I slammed my finger in the gate in our yard and didn’t say a thing – I’m getting there.) But until then, and when it inevitably comes up, the best way we’ve thought of to explain it is to refer to them as adult words.
The benefits of replacing “bad” with “adult”.
A few months ago, I watched a few older kids when one of them dropped an F-bomb. He was only about 5 or 6, so in my opinion straight-up punishment wasn’t in order, but I explained he couldn’t say that.
He asked why he couldn’t say it if his dad said it all the time. And I get that. It was a legit point.
I wasn’t totally sure what to say, but I’d read another blog post that talked about bad words being “adult words” instead, and it just felt like the right thing in the moment. So I told him they were grown-up words, and until he was grown up he wasn’t allowed to use them.
It totally worked. Or, well, he understood and went on with his day. Who knows about the long term effectiveness.
But when I told his mom about the incident later, she breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Thank you.” She’d struggled with how to explain them, too. She didn’t want to call them “bad” words, because she didn’t want her kids to think their family members were bad, but also didn’t want them copying their language.
What’s funny is, I didn’t even think about that… but it’s true.
Let’s talk about the real bad guys.
One thing I love about saying swear words are adult words is that it removes the good/bad labels. That leaves those labels free to be put elsewhere, like on language that is abusive to other people (which, of course, can include swear words, but still.) When they’re replaced with “time and place” levels of appropriateness, it allows you to have a totally different conversation about good and bad language.
If I had to choose, the words someone uses to hurt someone else would be better classed as “bad words” than a well-dropped F-bomb when you stub your toe (because that hurts like a – well, you know.)
In addition, even though they’re not always pleasant, the truth is, they’re just words.
Your husband spends so much time seeing the real bad guys: the ones who hurt others and don’t care, or find it amusing, or whatever. The ones who lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead without remorse.
When put in that context, a little swearing just doesn’t find itself even ranking on “badness”.
What you can do instead.
That being said, we really try not to swear. Especially because, as I said, the explanation of “adult words” so won’t work for our two-year-old just yet.
What we try to do instead is replace the questionable phrases with others. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes when my husband gets cut off in traffic, he’ll say, “Son of a… motherless goat.” And I die laughing every time.
If you’re really devoted, learn a few of the Chinese swear words they use on Firefly. You can just claim to be more cultured 🙂
The big benefit of this is that it de-escelates the situation. Sometimes the ridiculous replacements we come up with totally break the tension by making us laugh.
Does it always happen? Nope. Like when I dropped my flat iron and burned all the fingers on one hand trying to grab it? It wasn’t pretty.
But when it does happen, it’s better 🙂
Honestly, no method is foolproof, and unfortunately there’s no manual to determine exactly what your kids will or won’t respond to (or I would have bought it already.)
Talk to me: How do you deal with swearing in your house?