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Swearing around Kids

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Parenting, Families, & the Community > Swearing around Kids



What's your rule about parents swearing?

Feb 2008

My husband and I am are potty mouths. We use swear words as adjectives (rather than explictatives) and hadn't given it much thought... until now. Our 3-year old heard me say the S word the other day at the park when I caught one of my twins climbing up something she couldn't possibly climb and I ran over to save her. My son thought it was hilarious and laughed and laughed about it, repeating the word over and over. That night we had a nice discussion about ''bad'' words and how it was wrong of mommy to say that word. My husband and I continued the conversation after the kids were alseep. My husband thinks that we should simply tell the kids not to ever, ever use bad words. I think, because we use them, that it would hypocritcal to do that and we should tell them that it's not okay to say those words to other people, but in our house it's ok. My husband thinks that's too nuanced for a 3-year old, let alone the 17 month olds and it would be easier to simply have a zero tolerance rule. So...my questions is: If you have anything more than a zero tolerance rule about swearing in your household, can you let me know what worked for your family? THANKS!
%@&*$!


What the f---?! You're swearing around your kids??!! :) In all seriousness, we feel your pain. Same issues, 4 year old son. We do an in between. We say ''This is a word that could make someone feel bad, and so you should not use it. Mommy is also trying not to use it.'' When I slip and say the F or S word, I say ''Ooops. I didn't mean to say that. I don't want to use that word.'' And we have tried, very hard, to stop swearing ourselves.

We don't say: ''This is a bad word, you should *never* use it.'' We don't like that approach because it feels hypocritical, it heightens the weight of these words in an inappropriate way, and we aren't so into the whole bad/good thing. What is a ''bad word'', anyhow? We think its better to say ''this word could hurt someone's feelings''. That is something our son understands, and is motivating to him. It is also an accurate description of how profanity can be used, and is often viewed.

We also don't say: ''This word is ok in our house, but not outside.'' We don't like that approach bcs its too confusing, and bcs, honestly, I don't enjoy hearing my son swearing either. Plus, we as thoughtful adults don't even always make the right call on when its ok (e.g., have you ever thrown an F-bomb at work and thought, ''wow, shouldn't have said that''?) Seems unrealistic to think a 4 year old could figure this one out.

Note, on Wallace and Gromit a robot says 'Oh, knickers''. Our son saw this, and then he and his cousins kept saying ''knickers, knickers, knickers''. Hearing it, we realized that the word could be mistaken for the ''n'' word. We told him this word sounded a lot like a word that could really hurt someone's feelings, and so we didn't want to hear him say it again. And we were actually pretty stern about that. Told him he could say ''underwear'' or ''skivvies'' or something else (that's what knickers are), but that he could not say knickers. Some words have the potential to really hurt someone's feelings. I think 4 year olds get that. reforming sailor


In our house, we don't believe in distinguishing words as ''bad'' or ''good.'' Rather, we've told our kids that words are either ''appropriate'' or ''inappropriate.'' We have explained to our daughters that some words are simply not appropriate for a five y.o. to say. That gives us the leeway to use the words as adults if and when we need to. I swear (no pun intended!) that my husband uses the ''F'' word every third word when he gets upset (and sometimes he's not even upset - but I digress!) but to my knowledge, our six y.o. has never said it, because she knows it would be inappropriate for her to do so. Our 16 y.o. uses explicatives, I know, because I've seen them written on her MySpace page, but she would never use them in front of any other adult, because she too knows that would be inappropriate. But teenagers will use them, and I feel that taking the label of ''bad'' of of these words, like anything else takes some of the glamour or excitement of using them away. It also keeps us as parents from being the hypocrites you don't want to be. likes to say *&#$%&! too
Ah, yes, kids and swearing! My husband and I both tend to swear a lot, although I am making a concerted effort to cut back.

We explained to our children that while it was fine to use those words at home, some people would be very very upset and that they should not say them in certain circumstances (daycare was the big one). And you know what? It worked! Kids are able to make those kind of distinctions quite easily. Think about it - daycare probably has different rules than home does about lots of things. To a child, language is just one more thing. So I guess we took your tack, and it has worked out fine. mother of 2 schoolage kids who are NOT pottymouths


I have two girls, 5 & 8, who have heard Mommy swear—usually as adjectve— definitely on more than one occasion. It occurred to me that my parents almost never swore, which definitely was a good barometer for how much trouble you were in, but as with most things you are ''not allowed'' to do, just made me want to do it more. Hence, today's potty mouth.

With my girls I explain that there are thousands of words to describe things and smart people do not use curse words to do so. I explain that they will get in trouble for using these words at school and with certain adult sitter. No one wants to get into trouble, but now they get a sense of what's acceptable in polite society and what will get you sent to the principal's office.

They now laugh when they hear me (Cause Mommy's not using smart words), but do not repeat. There have literally been only two occasions, 1 per child, that I have heard them curse. I figure it was better to give REAL world lessons right up front. It's working for me, but as one friend (mother of three boys) pointed out, boys are different from girls. hg


40 plus years ago, my potty-mouthed dad made a rule: I was allowed to say Damn or Shit. But I was only allowed to say those words in connection to something I was doing, and NEVER EVER directed at another person. I wasn't allowed to use all those other choice expletives and the words I was allowed to use were to be used as noted above, but also only in my own home. I broke the rules on occasion, but my dad was very serious about this, and I got put on time-outs, or other punishments if I broke the rules. Fast forward to today: I have the worst potty mouth EVER, and my 21 year old also has the same problem. We try to curb it, but it's difficult. By comparison, my gentle fiance, raised never to curse, with parents who very rarely said anything worse than damn it, and that very rarely, almost never swears... of course he has picked up some of my cursing, which is a damned shame. He doesn't like it, and frankly, it always sounds shocking coming from this eloquent, articulate man.

Ultimately, I'd say curb your mouth, don't allow your kids to swear and explain to them why. It's rude, it does not allow us to reach the fullness of our language, rather using cuss words to fill in the blanks rather than being articulate and truly use our words to their fullest capacity. -- rather not be swearing


I love swearing; it's just the way I talk and I find it cathartic. When my son was very young, I did not swear around him but as he got older, probably around 1st grade, I began to loosen up which increased as he aged. I explained to him that these were words he could never use at school and kids learn those words very quickly anyway around their friends. When he got older, he used a few words the way I did, when he was frustrated, but at home or around friends. (Other parents seemd to forbid that, esp. those w/ younger kids; I only have one child). My feeling is that it's OK for him to use these words as long as it's not disrespecting someone (e.g., saying 'F*** you'); in fact, I never allowed him to use the term ''shut up'' for that reason. He's now a regular teenager and they all swear like mad. No harm done. Mouthing off
your post reminded me of myself. i swear like a truck driver, all the time. after we had kids, my husband gently suggested i try to curb it, but to no avail. sometimes i don't even realize i'm saying swear words! when my kids were able to understand that they were ''bad'' words, we explained that they were words for only adults to use, and that's that. our oldest tried to use it on the playground once, to which we again reiterated that only adults use those words, they aren't funny, and he would keep getting in trouble if he used them. he stopped (luckily, he's a real rule-follower!) and since he never much made a big deal about them, when the younger guy came along, he never realized anything was amiss. i guess it never occurred to him to use them, because his brother didn't. and again we reiterate to both of them that they are words only for grown folks. but the threat of t.v. getting taken away (their absolute favorite) is always lurking not too far away. good luck! blue streak momma
Well, after my 2yo casually answered ''F*** no'' to a stranger's question once, my husband and I had a frank discussion about hubby's refusal to give up swearing in front of the kids...While he has cut back (I wouldn't say he was a potty mouth, just the occasional F-word as an adjective when he's on the phone with his friends sort of thing), he still won't give it up, so we've just told the kids (ages 2 and 4), without making a big deal about it, that those are grown-up words and only grownups get to use them. And so far they've bought it, with a very few punishments to remind them in the beginning. Sometimes they make a great show of ''punishing'' daddy when he says a bad word, but mostly they just ignore it. (I did teach the 4yo that he could say Dang and Dagnabit instead, which is pretty funny to hear.) I've mostly given up swearing around them, but do occasionally let go with an S-word when something goes wrong, and it doesn't seem to be damaging them. We'll see what they're like when they're 7 and 9, but so far, so good. I Swear Like a Cartoon Cowboy Now
Dear Anon

WTF = What the F#@*. A fav expression to this day between my youngest and I. She is 24 and living outa state in school. My other daughter is 28 and we seem to lack a fav expression but do not hesitate in the use of colorful language to express ourselves.

I am smiling and amused by my memories of swearing with the children, the children swearing at me, and efforts to teach them the places to and not to use this language.

I was raised in a working class home where my mom used such language. My wife was raised in a upper class home where such language was never heard. So we instructed the children that there were different rules in each grandmom’s home. This included language. I do not remember the ages and hows of all this, I just know that they learned it. And they learned that this apply in the community, homes of friends, school, etc.

One of my fav exercises was to declare “Swear Ins” They were scheduled and agreed upon by all involved. It became a fun time to let go. It could occur in the car driving or when at home, but not with others. My daughters delight in the telling of this family exercise. Calling each other names was not ok, but this did not stop one daughter calling me a d*&% head in public when she was really pissed at me.

As to the the disagreement between you and hubby on this matter. Don’t know what to say. Oh f@#$ it, agree to disagree.

Smiling – thanks for asking
Colorful Speaking Daddy


I am completely uninterested in curtailing my swearing around my kids, and much more to the point, I don't want to force the many adults without kids in my kids' lives to watch their language.

This is what we do and it works perfectly:

Certain words are considered ''grownup words''. Using them is one of the many. many things that I am allowed to do that my kids are not--like driving, staying up late, etc etc. I don't feel hypocritical about this at all, and the kids are 100% fine with it. I have never, not once, had to tell them not to use those words once we identified them as grownup words. And I don't allow visiting kids to use them either--I simply say ''In our house those are words that only grownups use, kids don't use them.'' Same thing--never had an issue after that.

I realize this might not work for every kid, but it certainly works for mine. Adults can swear, kids can't


I think that your husband might be right. My duaghter picked up some colorful language from us and began repeating it when she was 3. I got an earful of good old-fashioned judgement from another Mom who heard her. My husband and I decided to change our language. That was 9 months ago, and I've only heard of her using a swear word once since then. (She told a teacher ''this is f****** boring''). Kids will say what they hear. Former Potty Mouth
My first thought is, ''thank God we're not the only ones!''

My husband swears like a sailor and also swears he can't stop. I have been known to let the f-bomb fly on occasion myself, though not as frequently as he does.

My kids are becoming aware that these are bad words, though it's cute - they lump them in with other bad words, such as ''stupid.'' They will come tell on Dad when he's letting them rip, (usually when he's trying to fix something.) ''Mom, Dad said f---ing!''

I've let them know these are not good words for kids to say, and that we grownups shouldn't say them either. I have told them to say ''BOO!'' to Mom or Dad when we slip up. They delight in doing that. It lightens the mood too.

That being said, my son dropped one of his toys this morning and said the s-word. I chose to ignore it. I don't want to reinforce it, you know?

I'm looking forward to what other people have to say. I'm sure I could use more advice myself.

By the way, my dad was a notorious unconcsious swearer (''I don't want any g--d--- swearing in my house,'' he said) and my siblings and I seem to have turned out OK. No prison time so far. :) oops I f'n did it again


We are guilty too! Believe it or not, I grew up in a home that had a zero tolerance rule; however, as soon as I hit 18 years old and went to college things changed. Then I met my husband who grew up in a free flowing cussworthy household (inside of the home and outside of the home). Ultimately, our hybrid household has this “rule” My husband and I still cuss and the kids are allowed some slip ups depending on the appropriateness of the situation (%*&* I hurt myself) but I remind my children that we have to keep cusswords to a minimum and we especially don’t cuss around family, friends or at school. In order to reinforce that sentiment, my husband and I bought a cuss bank (yes, it’s really a cuss bank) and every once and awhile when our children catch us in the act we pay up (quarter for each word). Anon
I swear in German! I don't speak a word of German except for one emphatic expletive. It is short, to the point, and very satisfying to say. Plus, since we know few German speakers I don't worry too much if anybody hears me or if my daughter happens to repeat it (at age 5, she still doesn't seem to care.) multilinguist
I had to add to the swearing discussion because I curse like a sailor and my son recently repeated ''OH CRAP'' when I said it recently. Luckily, this is on the mild end of my cussin.

But, to respond to the person who only curses in German, a word of caution. I am Cajun and my dad and grandparents only spoke Cajun French when angry, saying something we shouldn't hear, or when they cursed. As a result, I thought all old people were angry and spoke in a different language and all I retained from my Cajun language roots were the cuss words and phrases! They are somewhat useful, but it's sad that that's all I got out of a dying folk language. cussin cajun


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