Toddler Development

Is Swearing in Front of Your Kids Ever Ok?

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I am one of those people who swears quite a lot. Not gratuitously, but when the moment calls for it because of frustration, incredulity, or excitement. There’s sh**, bl****y he**, the milder d**n, and of course, the versatile f***. My husband is the same. In fact, his English is quite good, so he’s one of those rare foreigners who can actually swear in English quite naturally and not overdo it.

When Alex was a baby, we didn’t censor ourselves much, but as his verbal skills grew, we realised that we’d have to tone it down or risk him picking up what we were saying. So we then adjusted our phrases to “Oh dear!” or “What the bagoogy!” or “heck” (which in some households must still seem like swearing). To this day, every time I say “Oh dear!” I feel like a twee grandmother (or Hugh Grant), whose next exclamation is going to be “Oopsy daisy.”

The interesting thing is that in French, my husband hasn’t really censored himself at all, still saying the equivalent of sh** and d**n, and yet Alex hasn’t reproduced these in his moments of frustration. That’s probably because English is the primary language at home, but I do wonder.

I don’t think it’s a given that if you curse, your kids automatically will too. We have friends who don’t censor themselves at all in front of their kids, who are 9 and 7, and yet I’ve never heard the kids swear in their moments of high emotion. I’m guessing that my friends have admonished the kids when they’ve done so, saying something along the lines of “That’s adult language which you are not allowed to use.”

This goes back to something I’ve written about before in terms of presenting the real you to your kids, rather than an ideal self, and then setting clear boundaries for what is permissible or not for them, at home and outside of it. In a way, making the decision whether to shelter them or not.

One thing’s for sure though. Your kids are going to get exposed to it whether you like it or not, and they will come out with swear words when you least expect it. And the more attention you pay to it, the more they latch on to it as something excitingly forbidden to wield at you.

This is definitely the case with two phrases in our house – “stupid” and “Go away.” Neither of them is swearing, and yet they can be offensive, so we’ve reprimanded Alex when he used them, which he then uses in his moments of willfulness with the express purpose to goad us. This goes both ways; when we use these phrases we get told off by him.

I’ll also never forget this one incident when Alex was sitting on the sofa, playing, and he said “This is sh**.” Now, although this is a phrase I use very often, I’m quite sure I never said it in front of him. And yet, there he was, saying it softly to himself. I asked him what he was saying, and he repeated it. At this point, my husband had heard it too, and we gave each other a look which basically told each other: “Do not make a big deal of this.” Alex said it a couple more times, and then stopped.

We haven’t heard it again. Would we have if we’d made more of it? Maybe.

What’s your policy on swearing in front of your kids?

Uma is a Malaysian working mum with a French husband and a toddler named Alex living in their fourth country together.

Uma is a Malaysian mum who has travelled around the world as a teacher and teacher educator. She currently lives in Singapore with her husband and son.