What to Do When Kids Use Bad Words

What do you do when you let a four-letter word slip — and your toddler happily repeats it?

It was one of those deceptively cold days, when the sunshine and blue skies made you think it was 20 degrees warmer out than it actually was. Coraline and I went to the park where we met some friends. The kids were all bundled up — hats, gloves, coats — but us moms, either in forgetfulness or indifference, stood there shivering as usual. After almost two hours it was finally time to go home. We said our goodbyes, and I got Coraline buckled into her car seat where she asked me to peel her a banana. But my fingers, literally as white as sheets, wouldn’t work. As I shook my hand in frustration it just sorta slipped out, under my breath — a four-letter word that starts with “s.” I could swear it was barely a whisper, but my daughter doesn’t miss a thing — especially those things I intend for her to miss — so she said it, too. And sang it all the way home. Mother of the Year, this broad right here.

I’ll go ahead and admit that I have a pretty bad mouth. To those who insist that cursing makes you sound uneducated I would argue that a foul mouth and intelligence are not mutually exclusive, at least not always. Even my grandmother — a church-going school teacher sweet as honey — curses like a sailor if the topic is right. I just don’t think it’s a huge deal, at least not for adults. I’ve tried to be more conscious of my language now that I’m a mom, but it’s as hard a habit to break as any. Lucky for me, my verbal faux pas usually go unnoticed. So what made that quiet little utterance on that particular day so exciting, I don’t know. But she latched right on and has been running with it ever since, much to my embarrassment.

I immediately called a more experienced mama-friend to ask her what I should do. She laughed and said I should pretend that’s not what I said. “Tell her you said ‘shoot’ or ‘sugar.’ Don’t just tell her not to say it, it’ll just encourage her.” Too late for that, I told her. “Well then, just ignore it.” Okay, that I can do. And it works, at home, when she’s just puttering about mumbling it to herself like a deranged geriatric. But when we’re out in public and she’s shouting it at the top of her lungs, it’s a little hard to ignore. Mostly because no one else can. It is my hope that all her manners, her unprompted pleases and thank yous, are enough to outshine her gleeful expletive. Or that they are at least enough to balance my parental karma. If not, I say sugar. Guess the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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