Mommy confession: I do, unfortunately, swear a lot, and when I do I must pay the kids a quarter!
To keep them from picking up my trashy habit, I have also told them that, “Mommy shouldn’t swear and neither should you. But if you do, and at someone else’s house while on a play date and the mommy hears you, you will likely NEVER be invited back to play again. So, it is your choice.”
The great thing is, they get that even though they are only 6 and 8 and they never (okay, almost never) say bad words. They leave that up their mommy!
How do you teach your children about what is inappropriate to say? Are some words okay with you that are not okay with other people?
I do have this conundrum, as we are not a religious family and so words/phrases such as “Oh God” (and the many other variations of that phrase, some more egregious than others), “hell,” and other religiously sensitive words are not offensive to me or my family. But I am well aware of the fact that they are to others and generally fall into the category of off-limit words.
Realizing the social boundaries of the world we live in, I tell my daughters that while I do not consider those words/phrases to be rude speech, people who are religious do, so out of respect for their beliefs, it is best not to employ those words in any form, anywhere. Once again, in spite of their nascent ages, they get it and for this I am so proud of them.
What I like about my method of NOT threatening to wash their mouths out with soap (does anyone do that anymore?!) and instead, empowering them with choice and the understanding of context is that they learn:
1. The world is not black and white, but comes in many shades of grey;
2. Being respectful of others’ beliefs is important, even if they are not your beliefs;
3. It is their choice to employ swear words or not, and if they do, they must pay the consequences, and;
4. I have taken all of the fun out of swearing!
If you have children younger than mine that may not understand the nuance of context and appropriateness, you may want to try the method I employed when my daughters were 3 and 5:
My oldest decided to try out one of my colorful swear words while we were driving to the grocery store. While I was taken aback — even though my husband warned me plenty that if I don’t clean up my own potty mouth, the girls would inevitably follow suit — I didn’t bat an eyelash, but instead starting singing the word over and over again and combining it with other words that rhymed with it. Soon thereafter, the conversation smoothly moved on to the Littlest Pet Shop. This accomplished two things:
1. They were not sure what the bad word was anymore;
2. All the fun was gone. Kids love to test the world and when something they do gets a big emotional response from grown-ups, they are sure to try it again.
So, yes my advice is unconventional, but it works for my family. I still get to swear like a banshee when needed (i.e. car battery is dead, hammer gets dropped on my barefoot toe, kids are driving me crazy) and my children look at me with mild disgust and say pay-up mom or we will wash your mouth out with soap!