When my son was in second grade, he experienced one of many days when friendships felt unfair. His best friend had abandoned him for a new friend, and my son was left alone. His shoulders were hunched over when I came to pick him up, tears brimming at the edges of his eyes. In the safety of the car, he was finally able to release the pent up emotions over his feelings of betrayal.

“I’m so mad I could…say a bad word!”

I paused for a moment. He was only eight years old, too young, I was sure, for any kind of potty talk. Still, I understood the delicious taste of a naughty word in the mouth when the outside world was less than fair.

“Okay,” I said. He looked at me, eyes wide open, his tears forgotten as a small smile fought its way to his mouth.

“Really?”

“Really.”

And then he let loose. He said words I didn’t even know he knew, using them in horrible, shocking, and awesome ways, including one that started with “mother.” For five minutes, he said every curse word he knew, yelling them as we drove home. By the time he was done, his shaky friendship was forgotten and the day was saved.

As my kids grew older, they experimented with bad words even more. Eventually it peppered their regular language. My take on cursing was they were just words, but I had two hard and fast rules about their flavorful verbiage. First, time and place mattered. If they were in the classroom, at their grandparents’ house, or around small children, they were to mind their P’s and Q’s, and make sure no F words slipped past their gums. Second, they were not allowed to use curse words as a weapon, whether in name calling or to attack another person.

That said, small children and swearing don’t often go hand in hand. If your child has suddenly taken an interest in three- and four-letter words that would make their grandmother blush, here are three positive ways to curb the pirate talk:

  1. Make sure your own language is clean.

Kids learn from imitation, so if you’re uttering expletives anytime something doesn’t go your way, you can’t really expect your child’s language to remain squeaky clean. To help flush the potty talk, make a game of quitting by utilizing a swear jar—one quarter for every bad word (and then go do something fun together when it’s time to cash in).

  1. Invent new “swear” words.

My grandmother’s favorite curse word was “sugar” and let me tell you, she put enough emphasis on that word that the meaning behind it was crystal clear. And when I was young and went to summer camp, the teen staff had adopted the word “Smurf” as their curse word. They’d take a smurfing hike and eat the smurfing camp food and then go take a smurfing nap, and smurf you if you woke them up before free time was over. Divert your kid’s language experiments by encouraging creative cursing with regular, everyday words (or even a completely made up one).

  1. Create a designated area for word bombs.

Once kids realize there’s a secret adult language they’re not allowed to take part in, they’ll be slinging secret SH words any time they think they can get away with it. Curb their curiosity by allowing them a place where bad words are acceptable. The coat closet in the hall can become the “cuss closet.” The bathroom can be a safe place for potty talk. You could even set up a dog house out back and let them unleash every bad word they know within the small shelter. There are two reasons for this. First is to take the mystery out of bad language so it’s not so taboo or tempting. Second, it gives them a sense of where they can swear (in their designated place) and where they can’t (everywhere else in the world). At the very least, this will help prevent notes home from their teacher about their language.

How about you? Do you allow your child to swear in your home, or are curse words banned?

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Crissi Langwell is a Petaluma local, blended family mom to three young adults, and author of a bunch of books. Visit her author website at crissilangwell.com.

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