My Cussing Kid

Featured Parenting
Mischief boy. Photo by Will James

The other day, our soon-to-be three-year-old son called me a b*&#h when I asked him to eat his dinner. A few days later, as I was cleaning out my closet, he asked me, “Why are all these f*&#%@g shoes here?”

And now I’m asking myself, “what the f*@k do I do now?”

My husband and I cuss. A lot. It’s not a big deal in our house, so he hears the words often. And we laughed our collective a&*#s off in both of the instances above. Compound this exposure to curse words with the reinforcement of our laughter, and we’re in trouble. He’s now using f&@k and its variants with frequency, looking for a laugh.

I’m not even sure if I truly care, or if I’m more worried what other people will think. The power of mommy judgement compels me. When my brother was this age, he used to replace the ‘tr’ in truck with another, less ideal, consonant. I remember my stepmom following him around the playground correcting him so the other mommies wouldn’t flip.

Also, I don’t want his teachers to punish him for words he hears all the time at home. Another flashback–on my first day at Catholic school, a teacher asked our class how we’d feel if we were Native Americans being ‘resettled’ off our ancestral lands. I said, “pissed off.” Detention for me! But my dad was proud.

I also reject the argument that cursing is lazy. Sometimes a curse word makes the person you love most smile; my husband loves a well-placed expletive. And sometimes a curse word is the perfect word for a situation. In fact, I dare you not to use one when you step on a LEGO in the middle of the night.

And there’s no way my husband and I can just stop cursing. We’re adults, it’s part of our vernacular, and ultimately, we just don’t care enough, I suppose.

In researching this post I read some other blogs, and frankly, I was pretty shocked what other people suggest. Did you know there are still families that wash their kiddos’ mouths out with soap when they curse? And then there’s the old standby, ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ which has never sat well with me. My feeling is that by punishing our kids for experimenting with their vocabularies, we run the risk of making the curse words into forbidden fruit, increasing their appeal, making language one more thing to hide from parents, and ultimately, increasing a kid’s use of the ‘bad’ words.

So if my husband and I can’t or won’t stop cursing, can’t or won’t not laugh when our son does it, and absolutely refuse to punish him, what can we do?

We’ve decided to let him curse at home when appropriate–for emphasis or for humor. But name calling, slurs, and other meanness aren’t allowed. And we’ll be putting a pretty strong focus on where it is appropriate, and to what audience. At home with mom and dad? Sure thing. At home when we have guests over? Nope. At school? Nope.

At the end of the day, fluent cursing is a life skill. Like other skills–climbing, coloring, light-saber wielding–it’s up to us as his parents to make sure he understands that both time and place are important clues to what’s okay. Hopefully this gives our boy a solid foundation for many things, not just utilizing his less-than-ideal new vocabulary.

Proper light saber technique: don't hit the TV! Photo by Sarah James
Proper light saber technique: don’t hit the TV! Photo by Sarah James
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21 thoughts on “My Cussing Kid

    1. I’d say it is all about broadening the language of your child. And challenging yourself! If you use a small amount of strong words for emphasis these’ll stick and your child will be left with a tiny vocabulary others may find improper. But if you use a wide variety of colorful words (think the Captain in Tintin, for instance) your child will have a rich language and odds are that even those that usually frown at strong language in childrens’ mouths will smile…

  1. At some point he’s going to be in public, he’ll call someone else a “bitch” and then you’ll get to have a wonderful conversation with an overly aggressive person such as myself who will teach your child, and you, a fuck-ton of new words…

    1. I think you missed the part where Sarah said: “But name calling, slurs, and other meanness aren’t allowed.”

      Sure, being called a b!@tch by a 3 year old is funny, but it’s also a teaching opportunity. I’ve been through this with both my kids, and if you’re honest with them about the meaning of the words and how they can be hurtful to others the inappropriate use of swears will stop.

  2. Wow. Just wow. I fear this will be a long post.
    I’m Southern Baptist and pretty conservative and I understand that my views and plenty of those who write and post for GeekDad are different than mine but I just can’t comprehend what I just read.

    You and your hubby curse. “A lot.” and you are in any way surprised your 3yo is starting to talk like a drunken sailor. Why? Adults realize that when they step into the parent realm things have to change.

    When my wife and I were young and irresponsible cursed a lot also. We are hashers, we sang bawdy songs had terrible nicknames for friends and drank like fish on a regular basis. All that kind of mess stopped or toned down when we decided to become people that are supposed to responsibly raise another human being.

    Words have meaning and given that society (rightly) considers cursing inappropriate in general and certainly from children you and your husband are being incredibly selfish and wrongheaded in not changing your vocabulary at the very least when in front of your child.

    To be blunt I dread my child being exposed to children raised by parents like yourself. Ask any reasonably decent parent and if they are being honest they will say the same. Your kid will drop a few “F” bombs in class, my kid and others will hear it and drop it out of the blue one day and then after I get over the shock I have to punish him and explain in great detail why that is not acceptable. The teachers have to deal with it, the administration has to… anyone your kid comes in contact with.

    Think of it like this if none of that makes sense to you, and I don’t know you from any other random person on the net but I’ll bet this is a great example that might click. You don’t think cursing is a big deal and it doesn’t too much bother you if you kid does *shiver*. So maybe I use racial or gender slurs regularly and don’t think it’s a big deal and my kid picks it up and shares it with your kid. Would you be pleased to be walking down the the aisle at the store and when you child sees a black person he points and were to say loudly “Hi nigger!” or see two guys holding hands or kissing in the store and maybe combine both lovely habits he’s learned “Look mommy, “F’ing Fags.”

    I’m all good with raising individuals and being a bit unconventional but you need to cut out the cursing and teach your kid it’s not appropriate.

    1. I consider myself to be a reasonable parent, and while I am not making the same choices as the author, what I find most offensive is the comments of PS, who goes from being a christian in the first sentence, to drawing a moral equivocation between using curse word and attacking the basics of how God makes a person in the last sentence. To be blunt I am terrified with my kids coming into contact with parents who choose not to recognize the difference between a taboo verb/noun/adjective and a personal attack on someone based on their race, gender identity, or sexual preference.

      Words mean things, and all kids are going to learn curse words eventually. The challenges of them learning them late are different than then learning them early. Good Luck to the author, I am sure as you teach your kid to be part of his community it will all work out.

      1. Hi Bryce. You need to ease back from your dislike of the example I made for a moment and re-read it. In no way do I make a moral comparison between the USE of fowl language and the USE of racial slurs. I made a comparison between how I would care about the Sarah’s kids using curse words around my kids being offensive in a similar manner that Sarah might care about racial slurs being used around her kids. The point being to put it in light of something Sarah would find offensive since she doesn’t find rampant cursing offensive. I never compare the morality of the two things to each other.

        In no way do I consider cursing to be on par with racial or sexual/gender attacks and for your clarification I would certainly be more offended should my 3yr old spout off a racial comment vs. an “F you” comment. I’d be mightily unhappy with either and that would instantly be made clear to my child as well and he would absolutely understand why either was entirely unacceptable.

        1. I am pretty sure I read it correctly. The basics: You think she would be offended by racial or sexual epithets, the same others would be offended by her swearing child. She should then take her outrage with the example you provide and apply it to how others would feel about her child. Equivalency obtained.

  3. Hi Sarah. Im actually someone who went to high school with Bill. *waves to Bill*
    Im more concerned with how others will react towards you and Owen. You guys will be dealing with alot of backlash if and when your little guy uses his colorful vocabulary. And u will prob have a heck of a time trying to separate location of appropriateness and time of appropriateness. Especially when you “dont really care enough.” I just wouldnt want Owen to experience hate or meanness from others because he was taught its ok to cuss. Imagine, if he calls you the B word then im sure he wouldnt hesitate to call his teacher or other authority figures the same thing. You should care enough to think of consequences he can face for his verbal actions.

  4. Ahhh, I see the problem. You and the hubs need to have your mouth washed with a few bars of soap.

    The fact is that cursing has its place. You as adults can distinguish when it can/should be used.
    A toddler cannot distinguish when it is appropriate.

    Take the other challenge – Try going a day with out cursing. Pretty sure that will prove difficultat first and become easier as time passes.

    I speak from experience. There was a time when I could not speak a single sentence without throwing a curse word somewhere in there.

    I feel for the toddler as this is a failure on your end and reflection in you disregarding how this will impact your child and those that surround you.

    Good Luck.

  5. When our high-functioning autistic son realized how much people care about curse words, he started using “fuck” like a comma during his meltdowns. He hardly ever curses otherwise. This was when he was four.

    As alarming as it was for us to hear these horrendous things coming out of his mouth, we recognized that he was doing it for the shock value. So instead of castigating him for it every time, we just… ignored it. And he realized that those words didn’t have quite as much power as he’d previously thought.

  6. Hi, fellow GeekDad writer here and parent to two boys, ages 8 and 5.

    I love the English language – majored in it (along with an engineering degree) and recognize that words come in and out of favor. That said, I find our society’s reliance on foul language to be growing and growing to the point where people cannot have a conversation in public without tossing in swear words. I think most people who do it don’t even hear themselves. You can’t go to a sporting event without hearing the words. Television is getting more and more lax in what is and is not allowed. Even video games for 10+ have questionable words and phrases.

    We have a large group of writers at GeekDad, so I’m going to put it out there that at least one GeekDad writer doesn’t agree with much of this post. I’m not saying I’m innocent. Yes, stepping on the proverbial Lego block in the middle of the night is certainly worthy of a choice word or two, but as a parent I do my best to watch my language. What I say, my kids will say. And will repeat to their friends. My oldest son has an acquaintance who curses. I can’t stand it. He doesn’t even know the meaning of some of the words he says. Thankfully my son doesn’t attend school with this boy or hang with him all that often. When he does, I’m nearby and I correct his language when I hear it.

    My boys know what language is and isn’t allowed in our home, and if it isn’t allowed in our home, it most certainly isn’t allowed in public or at school.

    Raise your children however you like, but there is absolutely nothing right with a child using adult language. I’d go so far as to say using foul language in front of a child is improper and even damaging due to the fact they’ll probably use it when and where it’s not acceptable and it will likely embarrass them (should a teacher intervene). But then again, this is 2016 and it seems we live in a world where everything is okay somewhere.

  7. I have to say that it’s sad to read something like this on Geekdad. It’s lazy parenting no matter how you rationalize it. I’m guessing you and your husband manage to control your cursing when at work around bosses or clients, but for some reason you can’t stop at home?

    Kinda reminds me of folks who take their little ones to restaurants and then ignore them as they scream and disrupt everyone around. We live in a civil society, and as parents it’s our job to teach our kids how to be part of that society. I’m all for informality and I’m no prude by any means, but the erosion of politeness and civility I’ve noticed recently is depressing.

  8. My husband and I seldom curse, partly because we feel that it is lazy to describe every single thing as “that f’ing whatever” and also that overuse diminishes its impact. And that impact is necessary.

    If you say ‘f***’ every sentence, then what do you say when something truly horrendous happens? It becomes much less satisfying if you have nothing to convey the True Depths Of Your Feelings when you do step on that Lego in the night. When someone in this family swears, we *know* that the poop has really hit the fan.

    Of course our daughter has heard the words, both from us (seldom), and from other sources (somewhat more often, but not much). We’ve told her that they are “grown-ups’ words”, and she will be able to use them when she is grown up. Much like being able to drink or vote. Once she’s a teenager, I have no doubt that she’ll use the words when I’m not around; but that just means that she has learned that there are times when it is not appropriate, and it is not appropriate to swear around me unless you step on a Lego.

    1. “it is not appropriate to swear around me unless you step on a Lego.”

      Add to this list:

      1. Spock dies saving the Enterprise.
      2. Vader reveals his relationship to Luke.
      3. One of Serenity’s crew members dies.

  9. I’m just trying to comprehend the idea that you think it’s okay to let someone who still can’t mentally comprehend *NOT* crapping their pants but still assuming they’ll have the mentally capability of not “crapping” out of their mouths when inappropriate. Morality aside, I just genuinely think your logic is way off.

    That said, I’m a geek dad to a 2 year old, and my wife and I do swear (she’s pregnant and I think that’s amplified her emotions/swearing exponentially). My child has a couple swears, but his elocution is still way off, so we can get away with it in public for now (“Carp” is their favorite). But the reality is they’ll be in school soon, and I have coworkers who have horror stories of being forced to take PTO to come get their kid from school because of “swearing”. Maybe freelance writers have this luxury, but us 9-to-5ers have to cut our Disney trip short when we don’t have PTO.

    In conclusion, bad parenting = less Disney. And if that isn’t the definition of a bad person, I don’t know what is.

  10. In my classroom (of young adults transitioning from high school to adult ed programs) I’m constantly reinforcing the importance of “code switching”, or in less pedagogy words, context. Home is home. Work is work. School is school. I always tell my kids (*students*) “don’t cuss in front of me, not because I’ll dislike your or disrespect you but because you’re going to be independent adults very soon and you need to identify the people and places where it’s okay to be informal and where it’s not.” Their immediate first responseis always that I’m “trying to change them, make them somebody they’re not” but they eventually grasp that it’s not about changing them or their language but having the tools to identify, read, and understand situations. The outside space where your son is going to exist without you is an area he’ll be traversing on his own- and hopefully if he’s learned to recognize context he will know how to use language to the best of his ability and thrive in it. But don’t worry too much…white privilege guarantees a certain amount of leeway for your son in our society (that comes off really snarky, and I don’t mean it to. As a person of a color I guarantee you my son would not be laughed at genteely if he said this at a playground or in school.)

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