What should you do about your child's "garbage mouth"?
Gay Uncle Brett Berk: My friend Julie here on momlogic recently wrote a piece about her daughter's first curse word, expressing her concern about the girl dropping something and saying "Sh*t!" (She also placed responsibility for this word's existence in her kid's vocabulary on a recent viewing of a Jim Carrey movie -- a form of child abuse we'll address in another column.) Still, before Julie freaks, or gets out the soap, I'd like to present another perspective.
Try as you may to avoid using what my third-grade teacher called a "garbage mouth" in front of your kid, they're inevitably going to be exposed to the wonders of four-letter words -- by you, by their peers, by hearing Lil Jon at the club. Swearing is an expressive and exciting part of our language. I love to curse when the situation demands it -- and sometimes when it doesn't. Perhaps you do too. But young kids don't have our contextual understanding of proper or improper usage, so when they try cursing -- like with most other things they do -- they're attempting to test the boundaries of propriety and acceptability. It's YOUR JOB to provide these parameters. Probably more than once.
I personally have much less trouble with young kids swearing than I do with them engaging in violent or weapon play, so long as they do it properly and without intending harm to others. Calling another child an "A**hole" when they cut the line for the slide is unacceptable. But I see absolutely no problem with a kid screaming, "Sh*t!" when they drop a block on their toe.
However, you may feel different. So when your kid tries out a new curse word, let them know your stance. If you think it's not appropriate, say so. If you think it's OK at home, but not at school, make that rule. But be sure to state your invocations clearly and calmly. If you freak out and act like your kid has just blasphemed, or called Michelle Obama a skeezy slut, they're not going to get the right message. And don't be afraid to let them know that these are words only adults can use, if that's how you feel. There are plenty of things grown-ups are allowed to do -- drive, drink alcohol, watch reruns of "Falcon Crest" -- that are not appropriate for children. This is not a relationship among equals.
Finally, as with anything else you're trying to put the kibosh on with your kids, be sure to use the Gay Uncle's patented E.A.R. method.
Explain: Tell them how you feel and what your rules are
Adjust: Give them the scaffolding needed to comprehend and incorporate this information
Redirect: Provide them with viable and approved options for what they can do instead.
|Brett Berk, M.S. Ed. has worked with young children and their families for over 20 years--as a classroom teacher, preschool director, and research consultant--and is the author of "The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting."|