Out of the Mouth of Babes


Young children don’t “use” bad words, they say them. Think about the curse words you know; they are short and easy to pronounce, right? A word may well be classified as bad, but children have no idea what it means. They just hear the word and repeat it; it’s very innocent. Children don’t try to figure out words as much as they observe how certain ones cause their parents to react. I’m sure most parents try to stay calm while they explain that the word is not a good word to say. Children can be fast learners and they are always smarter that we give them credit for. If your child said a bad word, it’s probably because someone (maybe you) modeled that behavior in front of them. Well…Que será, sera and c’est la vie! Here’s to doing the best we can!

Children repeat everything! I remember one of my students coming in and announcing, “My Daddy bought me a swing set that cost $999.99 but I’m not supposed to tell anyone!” I wonder and you should too…what are my children repeating to someone else?

Photo: Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Caress
I imagine this is my daughter covering my mouth so I won’t say a bad word!

I teach my second graders that words can hurt and as long as they’re not using words in an unkind way they will be making a smart choice. I have seven year olds come tell me, “Mrs. Cooley, so and so said the “S” word (shut up, sucks, or stupid). Words like stupid are bad words when applied to people. But children are going to learn all the “S” words from their peers so why not be the one to introduce them properly.

I read Judy Blume’s, Superfudge every year in my classroom because it’s hilarious and the kids love it. Their favorite part is when a talking myna bird says, “Bonjour Stupid!” Before I read it I talk about how the author Judy Blume wants you to laugh and it’s ok but it’s not ok to use the word “stupid” in an unkind way. They know this and I think they appreciate that I trust them to be respectful with their vocabulary.

What’s ironic about cursing is that it’s supposed to be good for you! It’s a release. I can remember how to say bad words in other languages easier than everyday vocabulary because it’s fun to curse! If you stub your toe, the best prescription might just be to say a bad word to relieve the pain. Think about the different ways you can curse: to vent, express anger, pain, excitement, surprise, even happiness… Just like the horn on your car, you can do a lot of venting with it and it feels so good!

I am not a big curser and I think that’s why saying a bad word feels so damn good to me! If you curse all the time, the words are less potent and may not satisfy you in the same way if you use them less often. I think if you use bad words within a safe circle of friends who won’t judge you and you’re not around children it can result in you feeling really nice, healthy, and honest. We have to make our smart choices just like children, but if you find if there is an occasion that calls for a bad word, you can usually find a window to say it.

Chefs may be the worst at cussing! Look at Chef Gordon Ramsay; I would not want him to be mad at me! I was at a restaurant once with an open kitchen and the chef was not happy! The whole restaurant got an earful of angry cussing. It was hot in that kitchen. Maybe that’s where that saying comes from, “If you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

We know as parents we must model the right behavior for our children. When we slip, we should apologize but we shouldn’t forget to laugh! My fix to most things is a change of scenery to distract either children or adults from the problem. So why not provide a change of vocabulary too!

When my three-year-old daughter said, “dammit” in the correct context I was shocked, stunned, and speechless. I started saying “oh dear” all the time over compensating and thinking I could erase her memory and try and fix the problem. Then one day she dropped her goldfish and said to her brother, “Oh dear dammit!” My friend said not to worry, she’s three and it will go away. I know she’s right, just as long as her Daddy and I are good role models for her and her brother. I just don’t want my daughter getting in trouble at school for saying something she doesn’t understand herself.

My husband has also changed his choice of words to silly things like, “green rabbit.” We’re not perfect (and I think it’s healthy for them to know that) but having children certainly makes us try hard to be better. We all want to be good role models for our children. Teaching good judgment is not just a one-time event, but a process.

Photo: Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World
I imagine Christina saying (like my daughter), “Oh dear dammit! The house is so far away.”

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