Unconventional Mommy: How to Deal with Swearing

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!

Navigating the Profanity Issue with Children
Teaching Your Kids to Be Honest
Overreacting? Your Kid Will Too


Magdalena J.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you!

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

I, too, have a bit of a potty mouth. But I also know when these words are more acceptable, and when they are not. kids don't have that filter. Great tips!

Thorn Briar
Past Member 5 years ago

Interesting. Thank you for sharing.

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia5 years ago

Thanks for this article! I am a "potty mouth mommy" too. My son said "shit" when he was about 14 months, I ignored it and thankfully he never said it again. I try not to cuss around him because people do judge you if your child repeats, and focus on saving it for when I text or away from him. Also, in my household growing up, cussing was taboo so when I was a teenager I would use "f*ck" every other word. I had a classmate when I was 13 who didn't cuss because her family allowed her.

Cherise U.
Cherise U.5 years ago

@ Joanna - agreed about teaching kids to think things thru rather than just say "because I said so!"

Joanna Mechlinski
Joanna M5 years ago

I like when parents take the time to EXPLAIN to children why they shouldn't do something, rather than simply tell them not to do it, and that's it. Children need to be taught how to think things through on their own terms, but too many people today are too busy with their phones or doing their own things, and they don't want to bother. Sure, it takes a bit of time, but it's so worth it in the end!

andrew h.
- -5 years ago

thanks Cherise

of interest from Yogananda:

"Loving guidance, not harshness
Parents should look upon their child as the honored temple where their conjugal love can be purified and expanded into filial love. They should feel that they are serving God in that little temple.

Children, in turn, should look upon their parents as visible representatives of God on earth. Obedience and respect should activate their behavior.

For parents, kindness and loving guidance should prevail, never harsh treatment. If parents are harsh or unkind to their children, owing to a lack of self-control, they will surely prevent God from expanding His love from the parental heart to the heart of the child.

Parents should take care never to scold their children before others, or to bring an erring child to rebellion by continuous harshness. Strong, loving suggestions, alongside their good example, will do more to change a child than anger or harsh words."


Cherise U.
Cherise U.5 years ago

Great suggestions, Pamela! I really like taking the parenting tactic of empowering children to make their own decisions -- and of course that includes dealing with the consequences. Just categorically making things forbidden only increases their intrigue. The less forbidden fruits, the less temptation!

Cindy Wade
Cindy W5 years ago

Great article and ideas. I too, have a bit of a potty mouth and tried very hard to control it when my daughter was young. But things slip out... she dropped the "F" bomb a couple of times when she was really small and always in the right context which blew my mind. Now she's a grown up with a potty mouth too and a 4 1/2 year old daughter so she's started making up alot of words to use when she's frustrated. So far I haven't heard my granddaughter drop the "F" bomb. If she ever does, I just hope it's not in front my mother!!!

Pamela W.
Pamela W5 years ago

Thanks for the article Cherise .... some interesting comments and tips from members here. Another one (depending on the age of the child) is to ask them what the word means ..... which opens up the possibility for them to see that it didn't really make sense to use that word in that particular context.
A curious "twist" on this subject is that (once) swearing by someone actually caused me to have more respect for them .... weird? ..... I'll explain .....
My parents NEVER swore in front of us kids but, one day, (I was in my 20's by then) my boyfriend had been out with my dad in his car. Dad was "cut up" by another driver and let out 2 four-letter expletives !! This was so out of character that my boyfriend told me the story when he got back. I was really shocked, but it made me realise just how good a parent he had been all those years, setting such a good example to his children.
I never told him what I knew, but it changed my "views" on parent/children relationships.