The swearing chat with my son had been coming for a long time. The more my eldest watched YouTube videos, and the more playground language found its way into our home, there came a point where an explanation and a bit of a rule making needed to happen.
Perhaps, like many, this is one of those milestone conversations in parenting that sits beside the sex talk. It may be a little easier to tackle than the sex talk since you might already have clear rules on it. You can simply say, “We don’t do that,” and therefore it’s cut and dry (this rule is naturally a little trickier when the sex talk finally happens.)
The swearing chat was also necessary to have because I didn’t want my youngest to begin to hear and copy certain language. I try not to be overly protective, but I know I cringe when I hear my 7 year old say, “What the hell?!” So there was an additional need to have the swearing chat.
Obviously, if you do not tolerate the use of swear words at all, you may not have made it to this paragraph. However, if you are like me and you recognize at particular moments that swearing is appropriate and useful, then I hope you get some benefit and tips on how to manage it with your child. While his words were relatively mild, I like to be on the offense (not offensive) rather than reactive or on the defense.
“Swearing is a really important part of one’s life and it would be impossible to imagine going through life without swearing and without enjoying swearing.” – Stephen Fry
Joined up thinking
If this option is available to you, get clear with your partner on what the guidelines or rules are. Get clear on what you believe to be acceptable and unacceptable. You need to be on the same page about this as inconsistency will confuse your child and weaken either parent’s authority. In general, my rules are as they are when working with children particularly in groups: Is the swearing not directed at anyone, and is it appropriate and in context. E.G.: A kid stubs their toe? Expletive deployed. OK. Angry with friend?Expletive deployed. Not OK.
Set the stage
Find a quiet time in the day where other children are asleep and devices and TV are off. Treat it as important and your child will too.
Ask the child
I have found this personally very useful in working with children: get them to assess. It’s far better to hear what they know, what they believe to be the meaning, and when it might be used. Then, as a parent, decide or make a single ruling. There’s little point in running through a checklist with them and simply saying, “You can’t say that,” or “You can say this.” Hear what they know. It will also help you direct the discussion.
This is more like a step 3.1 but I wanted to highlight it’s importance. You can come up with whatever system you like, so I’ll just share what I use, which is a traffic light system:
• Red: Never say it
• Amber: Don’t say it at school or at home, but it’s something you might say with friends
• Green: Words that shouldn’t be a problem at home, but best avoided in class
We went through all the words he knew and I asked him to tell me what color he’d give each word. To be fair, he got most of them spot on, and was only one color away from what I felt was right.
Leave the conversation open
I knew this wouldn’t be a one-off chat, and nor did I want it to be. I wanted him to be able come to me and revisit the words and probably, no doubt, want to clarify how appropriate they are. So keep this chat open and tell your child they can always come back to talk through any thoughts or concerns.
My experience of doing this was mixed. I was happy to have that conversation and felt that for those thirty minutes, I’d done a bit of solid parenting. The other side is he’s still my baby boy and the last thing I’d want to have him say are swear words. Nevertheless, I know, as we all do, that swear wrods are part of our language and at least he was now educated and informed. As uncomfortable as it was that my baby was growing up, it was the right choice.
A few weeks later, his mum took him to the cinema. They went to see Jurassic World. As it was reported to me, he’d absolutely loved the film and coming out of the movie was overwhelmed with excitement and adrenalin. They get in the car and close the doors. Still full of excitement. He said, “Can I say it?”
She turned to him, his eyes glazed in energy and happiness and before she could reply, he shouted:
Which from all accounts seemed an appropriate use of the F bomb.
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