Motherhood

On Children Swearing

Paris puppet show

Ok, be honest: Do your children ever swear? Do you?

Growing up, my mom swore only now and again when she was really mad (she would bust out with an old-school “Damnation!”), and when I swear now, at 38 years old, my dad still says “Jo! Language!”

But sometimes you kind of need to swear. “How do people, like, not curse? How is it possible?” wrote Nick Hornby in A Long Way Down. There are these gaps in speech where you just have to put a ‘f*ck.'”

Before becoming parents ourselves, Alex and I would often swear for emphasis (e.g., “That meal was so f-ing good”) or, of course, when a grocery bag broke or we missed a flight or eight million other things. Once Toby was born, we cleaned up our act, but now and again, we still can’t help it — and little ears hear everything. I remember when two-year-old Anton was riding a wooden bike down the hallway, suddenly said “Damn it!” and then looked up at me with a sneaky smile and said, “… but we don’t say that.”

So, when I stumbled upon this excerpt from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, I laughed out loud:

My son, Sam, at three and a half, had these keys to a set of plastic handcuffs, and one morning he intentionally locked himself out of the house. I was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper when I heard him stick his plastic keys into the doorknob and try to open the door. Then I heard him say, “Oh, shit.” My whole face widened, like the guy in Edvard Munch’s Scream. After a moment I got up and opened the front door. “Honey,” I said, “what’d you just say?”
 “I said, ‘Oh, shit,’ ” he said.
 “But, honey, that’s a naughty word. Both of us have absolutely got to stop using it. Okay?” 
He hung his head for a moment, nodded, and said, “Okay, Mom.” Then he leaned forward and said confidentially, “But I’ll tell you why I said ‘shit.’ ” I said okay, and he said, “Because of the fucking keys!”

Last week, I was putting seven-year-old Toby to bed, and he told me that his classmate got in trouble for saying the “f-word.” I asked him if he knew the word, and he nodded. “What is it?” I asked. Very somberly, he looked up at me and whispered, “It’s… frustrated.”

Maybe not all innocence is lost, quite yet. :)

Do your kids ever swear? Do you? What word flies out of your mouth when you stub your toe?

P.S. A surprising way to stop tantrums, and what little things enchant your children?

(Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt.)

  1. This is so funny. When I was studying abroad in Ireland part of my course was once a week working in local schools with kids who needed extra help with their schoolwork. If they were finished early we would play hangman, and one day one of the 10 year old kids played a sentence with the word hell. I said now we don’t say that word, to which he looked at me very confused. In Ireland hell and damn and all those everyone says all the time. But then proceeded to list out every curse word he knew to see if it “made the list” until the big crescendo of the ‘c’ word to which I was mortified!

  2. Holly says...

    My mother-in-law loves to tell the story of when she brought my husband (then about 5 years old) and his brother and sister to her parents’ house for a visit one day. As they were leaving and the grandparents were waving goodbye from the front steps, 5 year-old John rolled down the window of the station wagon to wave and cheerfully called out “bye-bye, you f-cking a$$holes!” 😳😂

  3. KB says...

    Family legend has it that when I was about 2, my mom got into a fender bender. In the silence after we hit, I piped up from the back seat ” oh shit, right mommy?”
    We’re pretty loose with our language around our kids but had to have a talk after my 2 year old started saying “see ya later suckas” to other parents at daycare… my husband has been known to say it when passing cars.

  4. Ashley says...

    My husband and I use very little censoring around our 7 year old daughter when it comes to curse words. When she was younger, 2-3, she would say phrases that we would say but as she got older and the communication continued to grow she started understanding why my husband and I curse. She understands that it is mostly out of frustration and that she should not use those words. Since she was 2-3 she has never said a “bad” word again. At the end of the day curse words are just that, words, and we try to not put a stigma around words. Sure there are words that are truly bad and should not be spoken but she has to learn somewhere and we use this as a learning opportunity for her.

  5. Catherine Keene says...

    Samantha Bee was a guest on (I think) Stephen Colbert’s show and she talked about how she grants her children one good quality swear at the dining table if they have been good. As a woman without children, I think this is hilarious. We’ll see when I have children of my own.
    I also live in the Netherlands, and my friends here from various European countries use fuck with absolute abandon, and though I do swear myself I think Meg is absolutely right – the force of it is lost in translation, and I sometimes find it a bit shocking how much they use it.

  6. Britt says...

    When our son was young we tried to sensor our language. We’d pay him a dime every time he caught us. But I have to admit, I swear like a sailor and it got a little expensive. So we shifted our narrative about swear words. Instead of calling them “bad words,” we now call them “adult words.” We tell him that they are words that he can choose to use when he is an adult, but as a child they aren’t allowed. He seems to understand this idea much more easily. We worry more about him name-calling or using words that are intentionally hurtful to others.

  7. Tuva says...

    When my son was 1,5 years old and my husband was driving him home from kindergarten, he (the kid, not the husband) suddenly started swearing and kept it going for the whole ride home: «Fuck, fuck, oh lord, mommy’s naked». (Roughly translated from Norwegian)

    My husband had a hard time not laughing out loud and was thankful nobody could hear him inside the car.

  8. Kristina says...

    When my middle son was about 7, he and I had a little sit down chat about swear words. I asked him which ones he knew or had heard before and if he had any idea what they meant. I figured I would then fill in the gaps (within reason) and help him understand their meaning and why some of these words are truly “bad”. When we got to the f word I asked, “Do you have any idea what that means?” He paused as he glanced around our living room like he was looking for something and then he answered “Like you could say….’FUCK THOSE FLOWERS!’ “

  9. Melissa says...

    My 3-yr old has cursed a handful of times. We draw no attention to it.

    I do have a prepared response to any future comment from a concerned teacher: “I don’t care much about bad language, only bad grammar!”

  10. Laughed my arse off at this!
    So far my 5 year old has remained tight-lipped on this front, even though I KNOW he’s heard both of us swear on multiple occasions (what can I say, I forget my keys a lot!).
    My 4 siblings and I were obsessed with ‘Blackadder In the Trenches’, a comedy stalwart here in the UK, and my littlest brother was subjected to multiple repeats as he was learning to talk. One of his first well-constructed sentences was when sitting on our very non-sweary Grandad’s lap and being asked about his day. He started his sentence with “Well, bugger me with a fish fork…”

  11. Molly says...

    No swearing yet but my 3 and 5 year old LOVE potty talk, especially the word butt. Sometimes it drives me insane (not at the dinner table please!!!) but if I’m being honest with myself, butts are kind of funny :)

  12. B says...

    My 4 y/o nephew has been given the same rule about using swear words as playing with his penis. “Its fine to do in the privacy of your own room/bathroom”
    This seems to work well and as an aunt I find it hilarious when he gets frustrated playing with his sister, calmly walks into his room right off the main living area, yells “fuck!” At the top of his lungs, before casually walking back out and continuing to play nicely.

  13. Jess. says...

    We sure have a love/hate relationship with swearing at our house. I almost DIED laughing when our 2 1/2-y-o came home from daycare one weekend calling everyone and everything “mufucka!” Ugh, it was adorable, but we discouraged him and now at 10, of course, he would never. An appropriately-timed swear can be so funny, and I think my kids are wise to that, and I’m fine with it.

    I pretty much think the only swear words are the ones that take the Lord’s name in vain (OMG, GD, etc.). I happen to believe in a loving Heavenly Father, and though I get that some folks don’t, I think when you put it in perspective (using the name of *someone’s* god as a swear word), it’s kind of gross. So, those words are verboten in our house, and our kids understand why, along with things like: boring, that’s not fair, shut up, and I’m going to kill you.

    • Em says...

      I totally agree and I’m agnostic. The idea of taking someone else’s sacred beliefs and turning it into casual swearing is so gross to me. I feel similarly about people who wear the rosary as a necklace.

  14. When we were little, my mom taught us that bad words were ones like “poop” and “stupid”. In retrospect, it was cute, but it backfired when we arrived at school and looked shocked when our classmates used those words so often — and then of course we had no idea what real swear words were!

    I have mixed feelings about preserving my future child’s innocence, but also not leaving him or her so naive the other kids make fun of them. Would love a post in this vein someday!

  15. Jeiran says...

    I have the mouth of a sailor. Can’t help it – I think it comes from my mom never allowing us to say anything, including “shut up”. So when I grew up I started swearing all the time, because I could. So naturally, my child looked at me one day, handed me his half-eaten apple and said “mama, I don’t want this fucking apple anymore.” From there we decided they needed a safe place to use swear words, because I don’t seem to censor myself very much so it’s not fair, right??? So they’re “freeway words” in our house. The kids know to only say them on the freeway, and after a few months it lost it’s appeal and they are (mostly) over it.

  16. My husband and I haven’t been great about swearing in front of our twins. They started saying ‘shit’ at 2 and ‘fuck’ shortly after. We tried to ignore it but it didn’t work and our cousins with kids the same age made it clear they didn’t want our kids teaching them those words. So we talked to them about it a few times. One of our girls really wants to say ‘fuck’ so she created the word ‘falla’. “Falla’ encompasses all of the words that sound like bad words but are acceptable. “Shoot” for “shit”. “Heck” for “hell. But every once in a while, when she and I are all alone, I ask her if she wants to say “fuck” and she goes nuts. She’ll say it over and over. I mean, its feels SO GOOD TO SAY. I don’t blame her.

  17. Cait says...

    Not really a swear word, but along the lines of “kids say the darnedest things” when I was about 7 and my brother was 9 we were in the back of the family car with my mom and step-dad upfront. My brother kept teasing me, calling me silly names and finally I blew up and yelled “YEAH, WELL AT LEAST I’M NOT A VIRGIN.” (I was a BIG fan of Hocus Pocus – remember how if a virgin lit the candle the Sanderson sisters would return?) Suffice to say, my mom had a talk with me that night about what exactly a virgin was. :)

    • Anna says...

      This is hilarious!! I am just imagining my child saying that and having no clue! I bet your parents could not contain themselves!!

  18. I work in the restaurant industry which has been terribly helpful for my cursing language. While my 3 year old has repeated “fuck” muttered under his breath when something bad happens, I don’t sweat it. However him yelling at us to “stop talking” when he gets upset is met with a quick reprimand and removal from the room. We were just watching Home Alone and I couldn’t believe how rudely the family spoke to one another. It has recently become a benchmark; curses, while not encouraged, are not a big deal as long as we are kind and gentle with one another and their feelings. As the parents we get to decide the weight of words in our home.

    • Jen says...

      yes! this is our parenting philosophy as well. Any word can be bad when the intention is to hurt/belittle/disrespect another person. With our 4 year old, we don’t ever say a word is bad, we talk about the intention behind it. We’ve also found that by forbidding specific words, they achieve a higher status for rebelling.

  19. Jen says...

    We pretty much didn’t swear (I say curse) around our kids at all for the first 14 years but I use the word bitch a lot with them now. Girls can be so mean and when one of my daughters come home with a mean girl story, nothing makes them feel better faster than when I say girls can be bitches. It is a seldom heard word (from me) that has a really big impact on them. I don’t say it often but when I do, they know I have their back. I say it, I don’t preference it with this “I shouldn’t say this”. I also have started cursing more now that Trump is in office and that makes them crack up. So all in all, it has brought us closer together! Lol

    • Charo says...

      Just one question… if the “mean” person was a boy… what would you tell your daughter to call him?

  20. Catherine says...

    I’ve never understood how adults can justify reprimanding children for innocuous noises they make with their mouths. Not to mention the totally meaningless place the line is drawn! “Shit” refers to excrement, and while unpleasant is something every mortal being must cope with. “Fuck” often refers to another natural part of life. “Hate” means something much worse. “Kill” means something much worse. It’s considered acceptable to punish a child for saying “The bunny shits in the woods,” but “the bunny killed a field mouse” is okay. Seriously?! Kids have enough arbitrary rules to deal with, like that weird one about “i” coming before “e” except after “c”! Let’s teach our kids rational patterns of thought. Let’s reinforce critical thinking by emphasizing context and the true meaning behind our words.

  21. Alice says...

    When my (now nine-year-old) little sister was very small, she was OBSESSED with The Gruffalo…. but she actually really struggled with the GRUFF sound and called it “The Fuckalo” until she was about four. We HOWLED with laughter every time she said it- even more when you said “Don’t you mean GRUFFALO?” and she would go “NO Alice, I mean FUCKALO!”. I’d forgotten until I read these comments!

    As children and teens, my brothers and I were told that we could swear when we heard my grandad swear. I’m now 27, and have NEVER heard him say anything stronger than “Damn”. And I’ve never heard my mum say anything stronger than “Shit”. The guy I’m dating is half-Irish, though, and says his Granny used to call them “C**ts” all the time growing up! Personally, I think a well timed swearword can be the funniest thing in the world- but it’s all about choosing your word- and audience!- carefully….!!

  22. PJ says...

    We’ve taken an odd approach to swear words – that they’re part of our culture and language and should be learned as such. We allow our 6- and 8- year old to watch movies with swearing, and we ourselves swear a normal amount. We are trying to teach the girls situational appropriateness. If they swear in the house, as long as it’s used properly (and they *generally* know what it means – f*ck is a hard one to explain to a 6 year old), we’re good. They know that if they swear in front of grandma, or in school, there will be consequences. So far we haven’t gotten any calls from school about language (they started swearing at 4 or so). Fingers crossed.

    • Gale says...

      We’re in a similar place with our 9yo. It started with the “Hamilton” soundtrack. He loves it, we love that he loves it, and he’s good about understanding that just because he hears a word in it, doesn’t give him license to go around saying it. So we let him listen to it. He knows that the moment we hear him swearing outside of a sing-along, he loses his streaming privileges. Same thing our 6yos and the bathroom humor in all the Lego movies. You can laugh and enjoy it, but you can’t repeat it.

      We’ve taken an additional step with the 9yo, which is to explain that what’s funny and okay between third grade boys on the playground is different from what’s funny and okay in front of younger kids, parents, or teachers. We continue to try to find the line between raising good kids and goody-goody kids. It’s tricky sometimes.

  23. Julie says...

    Growing up my parents allowed us to say anything while in the house, just us family…as long as it was not directed toward someone and was not hurtful. Looking back, I realized that my mother was trying to create an environment at home where anything could be said, anything was safe; there was nothing I felt I could not tell my parents. Now, as a mother, I have tried to pass that along to my kids. My 4 year-old knows she can say “potty” words at home, though sometimes we will send her to the “potty room” if she really needs to let loose :)

    • I do this with my kids too! We have ‘inside the house’ words and my 4 year olds are really good at following this rule.

  24. Liv says...

    When I was growing my mother (who is Dutch) made up a swear word ‘potmetdriedoppelsin” – it means absolutely nothing but sounds really impressive. One day my grandfather was looking after me & I solemnly told him that my mother swore sometimes. He looked a little concerned & asked me what words she used & I told him ‘potmetdriedoppelsin’. He managed to keep a straight face & confirmed that it was indeed a very bad word that I shouldn’t use.
    Now I find myself using the same phrase around my son – it sounds suitable satisfying! :) That, and mother-funkers!

    • MM says...

      Oh I’d really like to know what the word your mother used really ment. I know a litte dutch and “pot met*?*appels in” could mean pot with *?* apples in it”.
      On my interchange to Florida as a 15year old the little brother of my interchange partner (then 9 years old) wanted to learn “really bad” german cursing words from me.
      I tought him “Kugelschreiber!” and “Handtuch!” ;-) I said, I couldn’t even tell him what that meant (it means pen and towel btw) and he was happy.
      Good that german sounds so harsh to english native speakers!

    • Mirte says...

      ‘Potmetdriedoppelsin’ indeed means nothing in Dutch, it’s a combination of a few real words ‘pot’ (pot) ‘met’ (with) ‘drie’ (three) ‘doppels’ (in Dutch it’s nothing, in German it’s doubles) ‘in’ (in), but together it’s just a nonsense made up swear word. The version I know is ‘potverdriedubbeltjes’, which is something like ‘darn it, three dimes’, still means nothing, but it works as a swear word for kids!

  25. kate says...

    My dad, brother, and I all swear liberally and creatively. Before the 2016 election, I had heard my mom say “dammit” or “shit” a handful of times, like when she got a third degree burn, so, warranted! But this year she has started swearing – she says maybe she saved all her swearing up so she’d be ready, since “there’s no other way to describe that f——er.” Ha! Can’t argue there.

  26. Ah Toby. So sweet.

  27. Kate says...

    Love this post. My son isn’t quite two and I already worry (and openly joke) that his first word will be a curse. My husband and I are prolific with our swearing when we’re frustrated, and I’m sure our little one hears it. It’s so ingrained that even our best efforts to stop it are weak at best.

  28. Taylor says...

    My oldest has Appraxia, so @3 when searching for his brother with me in the pre-school rush and he repeated ‘oh shit’, I was simultaneously impressed/ proud/shocked. His repeating and combining of words was excited.

    A few months later, he repeated ‘damn it’. I explained there are some words that adults use, he shouldn’t use at school etc. He looked at me once I finished and said, “well beavers build damns”. Touché kid, touché! 🤣. I have a mouth like a sailor and working in the Emergency Department only makes it worse!

  29. Tina, nyc. says...

    What a fun post Jo and team! I have laughed so hard I am nearly in tear.

    My first language wasn’t English and curse word I picked up from my grandmothers was “cholera”. I still use it sometimes when I get really frustrated.

    I really don’t curse but it wasn’t a big deal in our household. If a errant “sh$&” slipped out it wasn’t the end of the world. But the F word still makes me cringe.

    The word “whatever” was treated like a curse word and I don’t allow my kids to use it. It is a rude and dismissive word.

  30. Jenny says...

    English is my mom’s third language, so she would swear in Spanish or French when we were growing up. Despite that, my younger brother got a detention in the first grade for saying the F word. He didn’t know what it meant (obviously) and was more shook up from being the only 7 year old in detention than anything. I think it’s more important to teach kids the weight of words – that words have power, despite your intention – rather than simply to avoid “bad” words.

  31. When I was in kindergarten my mom said I started coming home with some colorful language. So the family got together and put in place the quarter plan. For every swear word, you had to pay the other person $0.25.

    To my parent’s everlasting credit, I made a TON of money off of them that first year. We still laugh about it.

  32. Liz says...

    When my daughter was not even two she was walking with her Dad down Court Street. She dropped whatever it was she was carrying and said “oh fuck.” My husband quickly said , “Harriet we don’t say that” and she looked up at him with her ginormous eyes and crinkled brow and replied back “only mommy?”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha

  33. Katha says...

    I did not have the time to read all the 350 comments yet. So someone probably brought it up already. But it’s (one of) my favourite Calvin & Hobbes quotes of all time: “Life’s disappointments are harder to take when you don’t know any swear words”.

    I do swear. While I try to avoid some words around the kids (even in German we use the english f-word) some others are totally fine with me. I guess I say “Scheiße” (shit) a lot and I don’t mind my kids using it.

  34. michelle says...

    My kids have been known to pick up a few choice words from their momma from time to time, but I just love this passage from “Bringing Up Bebe” – because, of course, the french do it so much better than us!
    “Saying caca boudin is a little bit of a bêtise [a bit of naughtiness]. But parents understand that that’s the joy of it. It’s a way for kids to thumb their noses at the world and to transgress. The adults I speak to recognize that since children have so many rules and limits, they need some freedom, too. Caca boudin gives kids power and autonomy.”

  35. Katie says...

    It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but I’ll sometimes say “Gutzon Borglum!” (creator of Mt Rushmore) when I drop something or snub my toe. I don’t know quite how I started doing it, but it always makes my smile when I’m upset. Sometimes you just have to make yourself laugh, you know? ;)

  36. KB says...

    When we were younger, my brother came home distressed and my mother asked what was wrong. He told her his friend said the “b-word”, and my mother asked him, “what’s the ‘b-word’?”. He nervously and cautiously whispered, “bagina”… I have heard this story a thousand times and it never fails to make me laugh!

  37. Pam says...

    My husband and I curse sometimes, but have really tried to avoid doing so in front of our 3.5 yr old by subsisting “doughnuts” for any swear word. As in, the doughnut deer ate our peach tree! We have had a much easier time than Nana, who accidentally curses in front of our daughter all the time, haha!

  38. kelly lewis says...

    Such a timely post! WE recently learned our 9 year old now knows most of the classic curse words. So a part of me, after suppressing my profanities around him, wants to just let it fly. Partly b/c I cursed like a sailor anyways when my parents weren’t around as a teen, and second, if we have a more relaxed approach, maybe it will seem less appealing. I also think it’s important to have an ongoing discussion to clarify the appropriate usage so that it’s not hurtful (i.e. that test was a bitch vs. she’s a bitch… ).

    • Totally, I’m with you on learning how to use swearwords intelligently and likeably. If you can weave them into your vocabulary in a colorful, funny way (Joanna, like your New Yorker post – “…say something clever but devastating”) then you’re not raising jerks, you’re raising people who will be interesting and let’s admit, thoughtful! Ha.

    • zainab says...

      very insightful! thank you!

  39. Melissa says...

    I grew up around farmers, so there were “hells” and “damns” in nearly every interaction, but to this day the f-word makes me cringe. Podcasts, Netflix shows, even a lot of books these days are too hard for me to listen to because of it every two seconds. I just can’t get behind it. If it’s so normal, how do people who have kids even talk? My six year old learned the (real) f-word outside our condo the day we moved in this summer. I was so excited for him to have a bunch of kids to run around with and that’s what he came inside with the first time he met them! Ha. They have been a fun little group of kids other than that. ;) Anyway, I know I’m a minority, but I wish everyone would just go back to hells and damns. :)

    • Michaela says...

      I remember being in kindergarten and somehow learning all the swear words from other kids (my parents never swore around me) and thinking that if only kids didn’t go to kindergarten they would never learn these words and that would somehow be better (you know, 5 year old logic).

      To this day, my husband still finds it funny and endearing when I swear because it happens so infrequently. I’m writing all this to say that I really do think it matters most what you do it home rather than what they pick up elsewhere. Kids are going to learn all the words at some point but the expectations about what is acceptable will still be set by you ❤️

  40. Meg says...

    We moved to the Netherlands a little over six months ago, and all the kids here say fuck, because I think that the shock-value is lost in translation. Also, it sounds a little more benevolent with the Dutch accent, like “Fahck”. So, my three and five year olds, who spent the summer playing with all the neighbourhood kids, merrily exclaim “fahck!” all the time. I’ve tried to explain that words can be weapons, we should avoid using them to hurt people, and that particular word hurts Gramma so please don’t use it when we FaceTime her. Otherwise, whatever. When in Rome.

    • Sm says...

      Oh, thank you for this comment. We’re in a similar situation as a native English speaking family living in Switzerland. I am going to adopt your perspective pronto! (and stop feeling mortified!) So true.

    • Katie Boyd says...

      Meg, we just moved to NL (Haarlem) in August, and I can so relate! It’s quite comical to hear it coming from the playground across the street!
      I remember the first time we visited family in Holland– I was *shocked* that my little cousins used “fuck” so liberally and without even a flinch from their parents.

  41. Megan says...

    I love Bird by Bird. My aunt gave it to me many years ago when I was in high school. The story on the back cover has become my mantra whenever a task seems all too overwhelming.
    “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

  42. Sarah F. says...

    Back in the 60’s, my mom and uncle decided to make their own swear so as to not get in trouble as kids. They decided to pick a word and change the first letter. To this day, I still haven’t figured out HOW they picked the word “duck”, chose the letter “F” and ran around their parents’ posh country club’s pool yelling their “new” word. They got kicked out.

  43. Lana says...

    I was so embarrassed when I heard my bubbly 2 yr old running around the playground and yelling “f*cker-f*cker!”… only to find our a few seconds later that he was referring to the firetruck him and the other kid dug out at the sand box

  44. Amanda says...

    When my son had just turned three, he somehow came to the conclusion that eating with a fork should be called “forking things up.” Except, he couldn’t say “forking.” So all meal long he gleefully said things like, “Look, mom! I’m fucking up my peas!” “Now I’m fucking up my sweet potatoes!” My husband and I died laughing every single time.

  45. Em says...

    I don’t personally remember this, but my parents just love to tell this story. When I was little, we went camping in one of this old tents that had a pole in the middle. My parents found me swinging around the pole singing “Damn, damn, I want some ham!” They thought it was hilarious, but had no idea where I picked that up!

    Another time, my dad took me and my sister on a weekend trip to Chicago and we were in a cab when we were cut off by another driver. Our cabbie leaned out the window and yelled “YOU………..ARE STUPID!” My poor dad told us years later that he was sure that cabbie was going to unleash a spectacular swear-word-riddled diatribe, but apparently he remembered he had two kiddos in the back seat just in the nick of time!

  46. Emily says...

    I swear rarely around my son. My husband probably more so (when he is driving). Around the age of 8 or so, I noticed my son and his friends started to experiment with swears. And they would whisper about the s word (which my son thought was “shut up”). I vividly remember being this age and feeling the thrill of saying swears. My sister and I would say them in alphabetical order. Anyway, I said to him, do you know swears? And he said yes. I said, you can try them out with me if you want to know what it feels like to say them but until we do that and talk about what they mean and what it means if you say them in public, at school, etc., I prefer you just keep the words at home with us. And occasionally he would practice saying them, just to feel the sound of them. But he doesn’t swear much out in the world. I’ve watched friends take a very different approach and make swears super off limits and forbidden. And interestingly, I notice their children are the ones who seem to say the words more often. A friend and neighbor told me her children are expressly forbidden from swearing in her presence. And I don’t understand that tactic. My long view is that if we create an environment where our kids can say and rehearse and work through what feels forbidden in the safety of their home and with their parents, hopefully when they reach real forbidden and difficult topics they will know it’s safe to bring up with their parents.

    • Rachel says...

      I think this sounds like a really smart approach! Way to go!

    • Nicole says...

      Such an amazing approach!!

  47. Oh I just love these stories!! Cursing was strictly forbidden growing up – even “stupid” and “sucks” was off limits. Maybe that caused me to swing entirely the either way because now I curse all the time. With a 21 month old who repeats everything, I’m realizing it’s time to clean up my language: my husband once called a squirrel in our backyard a “dick” for digging up some bulbs and now whenever my daughter sees a squirrel she shouts, “Squirrel – Dick!” I keep hoping she will forget the phrase, but it’s definitely crystalized in her mind. Thanks for all the suggestions for gently discouraging certain words!

    • Sarah says...

      I was never allowed to swear either as a child and I swore constantly (I think because of this). I still swear a lot now. I have two children, and have continued to swear around them. When my children have (very) occasionally repeated or asked what words mean I have explained that a lot of grown ups don’t like when people use those words. I tell them they can use them when they’re bigger but only around people that don’t mind. I tell them that if they use those words to teachers or at school or to grandparents they will be sad and they might get told off. They don’t want to upset people so they don’t use to them. I see no point in forbidding them. I won’t mind if they swear around me when they’re older.

  48. Sarah says...

    Just a short comment on how fantastic that Eisenstaedt photograph is. I love it!

  49. Andrea says...

    I live in absolute, abject fear of slipping and saying the F-word in my mother’s presence. She has such a visceral hatred and aversion to the word, that I am ALWAYS afraid that she will haul off and wash my mouth out with soap.

    I’m in my 40s.

  50. Carol Wayne says...

    I decided that my job as a parent, when my kids were young, was to take the thrill out of swear words….seems to have worked. HAH!

  51. Emma says...

    Haha I love this! My dad told a very similar story about me during his speech at my wedding. When I was about two-and-a-half, I picked up his briefcase one evening when he returned home from work. He says I exclaimed, “Jesus!” and he and my mom turned to each other with wide eyes and said, “Jesus? Like the baby Jesus? Are you talking about baby Jesus, Emma?” And I said, “No! Jesus Christ this thing is HEAVY!” Still makes us all laugh.

  52. Barbara says...

    How timely. My 8 year old said “shit” for the first time yesterday. When I asked him where he heard it, he said, “That’s what you say when you are really mad.” Wellllllll, great.

  53. Alyssa says...

    I work in a Conservative Christian company where of course, such words are not to be used. But man, sometimes an “oh shit” moment just happens at your job. Yesterday my boss cursed while driving members of our team to an off-site meeting and it brought me considerable amounts of joy.

    When I was a kid I would hear bad words on TV or from grown-ups and went through this phase where I would ask my mom “Is damn a bad word?” “Is shit a bad word?” She had to have a conversation with me that yes and don’t say them.

  54. My mom tells me all the time how bizarre it is to hear me swear. She has this theory that it’s okay if it can stand in for a bodily function or body part or appears somewhere in the Bible, “but nothing will ever feel normal about hearing your child cuss,” as we say in the south. So the f-word is definitely not in her vocabulary—though, admittedly, it is in mine. Apparently, my dad used to swear a lot before, and shortly after, I was born, but at a certain age my mom told him he had to stop. I blame my colorful use of language on him now. :)

  55. Marjorie Kelly says...

    Stubbing your toe is a very complex pain … at the first abrupt connection of toe to footboard, the pain is dull — I know what I did; I know it’s going to be a slowburning pain that will develop like a mushroom cloud, and the first words to follow out of my mouth are son-of-a-b@%#h!!! And then, comes the real pain … MOTHER F@#@ER!!! This pain is the mushroom cloud that just keeps on blooming, and then it wanes to a constant throb … then, the site of blood … and, I seethe … God DAMMIT!!! Cause I know I’m going to be feeling remnants of this painful experience until that damn toe second to the pinky heals (and, it looks like it’s broken, so this is going to be a long time). Of course, I have to blame someone … who the hell moved this damn bed?!!! Well, of course, nobody moved the damn bed; but if I’m in pain, you better believe the rest of the house is going to suffer, too.

    Yes, my adult children swear … unfortunately, my outbursts in these situations have taught them well … yes, I still swear because I know my husband has been moving that DAMN bed!

    • Catherine says...

      This is sooooo good!

  56. Ella says...

    My now seven year old nephew understands what is an is not appropriate to say but 5 years ago when he was 2 we walked into a restaurant and when the hostess greeted us he looked up and said “we just need a F***ing table!” With a shocked hostess the rest of us couldn’t help but laugh.. he used it so correctly! So we just tried to move on without making a fuss to him.. Still laugh when we talk about it today though!

    • nora says...

      HAH, i just cackled at my desk. thank you.

  57. Gabriella Brown says...

    We curse! One of my favorites is “goddamnit.” Last year, when my son was 3.5 years old, his teacher called my husband to let him know our son got in trouble for saying “goddamnit” in class! She did say, however, that she was impressed he used it in the appropriate context and wasn’t just saying it to say it. I have since been cleaned up my dirty mouth a good bit!

  58. Stefanie says...

    My darling little 6 year old the other weekend… Friday nights her and I eat junk food and watch a movie, and mommy has some wine. I left the bottle on the coffee table and as any 6 year old Ms. Olivia is very fidgety, and accidentally kicked the bottle of wine off the table (don’t worry folks, it’s a twist top no wine was wasted). and she said “OH EFFF…” until she realised she was about to swear. I laughed it off because it was freaking adorable, and asked what she was about to say, as her cheeks turn red she says “I wasn’t going to swear!” hehe. I don’t swear a lot but yes it is just necessary sometimes! In my books, if my daughter swears it wouldn’t be ideal (especially at this age) but I draw the line when swear words are directed at someone or being hateful

    • Cait says...

      Hahaha I love you for reassuring us that wine wasn’t wasted :)

  59. Ashley E says...

    I have quite a potty mouth, and have tried to clean it up, but to no avail- I’m a very passionate speaker, what can I say! I have a 5, 3, and 1 year old and we discuss there are no ‘bad’ words (as in curse word world, that is) just words that are allowable for adults and not kids. I will say that my daughter, who was 3 at the time, could drop a solid “Aw, SHIT!’…. and not laughing was extremely hard.

    • Trixie says...

      Exactly our view!

    • Lisa says...

      Ha! We take a very similar view. No bad words, but sometimes adults need adult words to describe adult feelings. I think that our kids get the distinction. Also, my daughter is in middle school and I have to illusion that those kiddos don’t swear. I sure did, it was such a thrill!

  60. Admittedly, I need to clean up my act, but we try not to swear in front of our kids. Granted, they have witnessed it and we’ve had discussions that sometimes when you’re really frustrated or upset a word just slips out. My 5 year old is only human and sometimes tests the boundaries. He knows that some words we don’t use at school or in front of other people, but I also try to remind myself to use more harmless words in place of swear words and try to encourage him to do the same when he’s really mad or frustrated and you can tell needs to get it out. I know his teachers tell him not to say things are “stupid” or whatever, but there are much worse things he could say and on the plus side, at least he’s using the words appropriately? Haha!

  61. Helene says...

    Years ago, our then 12-year-old son was a bat boy for a baseball team in a local wooden bat league. The players were all college-aged, playing ball for the summer. One evening, our son was assigned to an away game, traveling on the team bus to a town over an hour from our own.

    Fretting about what he might hear on that bus, my husband and I finally decided to let him go, hoping that he would somehow be spared the vocabulary we were certain he would hear.

    When my husband picked him at midnight, he let him settle into his seat before asking, “So…did you learn any new words?”

    Our son thought a bit and then shook his head.

    “No,” he said. “Mum says most of them.”

  62. Meghan says...

    When I was on the edge of knowing the truth about Santa, I remember locking myself in the bathroom and quietly saying “shit” to test the “sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake” rule. He didn’t catch on that I’d been bad as I received more than coal in my stocking that year, and I kept the small secrets of knowing that Santa is not all-knowing and knowing some “bad words” to myself.

  63. Lisa says...

    My husband and I started spelling swear words instead of saying them in front of our son. A stubbed toe earned a F-U-C-K, for example. We thought we were SO SMART until we heard our sweet little four year old tell our dog that his breath smelled like A-S-S. Its a sad day when you realize your four year old is several steps ahead of you!!!

  64. Hannah says...

    My mom likes to tell the story of how I learned to say “fuck”. Apparently, while in primary school, I heard the word and on our way home I started singing “Fuck Mike, fuck Mike!” (Mike being a boy who was very mean to me ). She then explained the (age appropriate, bad) meaning of the word. Asked if I understood that saying something like that isn’t nice – which I confirmed and then started singing again. My little sister picked up on it and tuned im. We really didn’t like Mike.

  65. K says...

    This is hilarious! Has anyone been watching Stranger Things? When the kids cuss we can’t help but crack up!
    I have no recollection of this but apparently when I was little, I was playing with my barbie in church and couldn’t get her shoe on correctly. I ended up throwing the doll a few pews and yelling “damn it” in the middle of the sermon!! They love to remind me of this story all too often!

  66. Jayne says...

    Our nieces and nephews, the oldest of whom is 5, don’t say “gosh” in their house. The first time I said “oh my gosh” after this new practice had been instituted, the oldest two yelled “DON’TSAYGOSH” (literally all one word) as loudly and quickly as they could. I couldn’t even understand what it was that they’d instructed me not to say, and for weeks, I was terrified I’d accidentally said something R-rated to these precious children, who come from a pretty conservative family, and thus given away my own secret potty mouth. Finally, someone else accidentally said the G-word and also got yelled at, putting my mind at ease.

    • Stacey says...

      Ha, the same thing happened to me! I didn’t realize my sister-in-law’s kids didn’t say “gosh” until I responded to a story someone told me with “oh my gosh!” and my 7-year-old niece pointed at me angrily and said “you watch your mouth!”

  67. Mj says...

    Ugh! I can totally relate. English is my second language, French in my native tongue. I have a totally PG French that I use with my parents and around children. But I have no such equivalent in English, a language I learned from pop culture. It is such a struggle to have a “clean” English around my In-Laws. Swear words just don’t have the same semantic connotation in English for me. A great example: I asked if “Damn” was considered a swear word when they said it was, I went “Ah Shit”. The struggle is very real.

  68. Andrea says...

    I like the French option for giving kids G rated, mild swear words. People like to play with the power of words, even kids. Giving them their own words to use in the right context acknowledges that. It’s why kids love the word poopy as an adjective.

    • Corey says...

      I loooove this. I don’t have kids but I want to do this for myself, and then for my future kids. But I’ll have to stop dropping all the swear words I say now….

  69. Laura says...

    My 8 year old knew that there was an “F” word, but I think he thought it was “freaking”. He’s also a big Ben Folds fan, and we try to get the radio friendly versions for him to listen to, but one day he was singing the song Army, complete with the correct F word. I stopped him and calmly said even though that’s what the singer sings, we shouldn’t sing that part ourselves, especially around his little brother. He burst into tears. He really didn’t realize that was the real F word and was so upset he actually said it himself! He is very much a rule follower…

  70. Vee says...

    I was raised Christian, and one of my favorite acts of rebellion was to start cursing. I felt powerful and free and grown up and cool.
    Fast forward to my late twenties when I wanted to ‘clean up my act.’ I was thinking more about whether my words were encouraging and uplifting or discouraging and tearing down. Trying to stop swearing was part of that process. It took me YEARS to fully stop. What had felt like freedom starting feeling more like defeat – or a roadblock to being who I really wanted to be. I’m from New England, so I pulled myself up by my bootstraps :) and remembered that people do harder things than that all the time.

    More recently, I’ve read an author named Micah who says to act justly, love mercy, walk humbly. I wish I had seen that in my twenties, but now when I read it, it reminds me that people all around me are going through difficult circumstances or trying to implement tough changes in their lives. If words can in even a small measure encourage them, what a gift!

    (Sidenote: Cup of Jo posts and comments often leave me feeling uplifted! xo)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love this comment, vee!

  71. DeLight says...

    Second grade…..at lunch my friend called our teacher a mother f’er. I’d never heard the word so later when I got pulled outside and asked what I had heard at lunch I said “she said something about peanut butter” It really solidified our relationship that I would cover for her like that ;)

  72. Emily says...

    I think I am in the minority in not liking swearing that much for children or adults. I used to swear all the time but as I got older I realized that was in part for feeling frustrated by something and not having the proper word for it. So I expanded my vocabulary and started swearing less and less just because I had better words to describe my feelings on something.

    • I agree, I think swearing is overrated and wish it didn’t happen so much. I’m not sure it does any good for anyone.

  73. Chloe says...

    Our daughter is 4.5 – lately she uses the f-word in the perfect context and everything (frustration or awe) so we know it’s time to curb. Ha! We’ve taken the route of telling her it’s a grownup word instead of a bad word and that she can use the word at home with mom & dad but never at school or others homes.
    We live in a very liberal area and most parents are doing the same, giggling and laughing when we hear other kids say it in public.

  74. Beth says...

    Our children haven’t picked up any swear words yet, but love potty words. When my daughter wants to be naughty she recites the alphabet, stops at P and repeats it a million times. She looks at me and says it’s not a potty word, it’s part of the alphabet. Great.

  75. Jenny says...

    My sister of two young girls, has a wide range of bad words that we can’t say around the kids. At our family cottage, my sister exclaimed to a group of adults that something was so “fucking stupid”. Her four year old happened to walk into the room at that moment, looked up at my sister and scolded “mom, you can’t say stupid”.

  76. Stephanie says...

    My husband was teasing me – his 7m + pregnant wife, for not helping with the Thanksgiving dishes, and my four-year old daughter sensed the sarcasm in my reply to him. In front of our whole family, she said, “You better not fucking talk to….” errrrr, uh. “Stop right there, please!” I said. Her reply: “you’re stuck with what I said!” Truth.

  77. This is interesting. My parents never swear. At all. At least in all my 28 years of life, I’ve never ever heard them swear. Growing up, I didn’t swear but I started pick it up when I started working — ha! It’s not that I just blurt out swear words all day long, but it just comes out from me occasionally. I try to minimise it at my best

  78. lalibela says...

    We were looking at open houses (for many many many weeks). We walk into one with a thousand people inside and my 3 year old looks around and says loudly, “This place is a shit show!”. We were laughing so hard we couldn’t even correct her. She was right.

    • This made me laugh out loud! So hilarious!

  79. Han Merkley says...

    Laughter is the best medicine and these stories have made my day! Thank you! There is a newspaper column in there!

  80. Nicole says...

    My then 2.5 year old son ratted me out to my husband when a car drove by them and honked, he stated “mama says ‘fucking idiots!'” For awhile after whenever I had to honk my horn he would just say “idiot!” from the back seat. Little ears are always listening ;)

  81. Leah says...

    Is there any better writer than Anne Lamontt?! I f*cking love her ;)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      she’s incredible!

  82. DC says...

    Many years ago we had our nephews and friends up to our cabin. The boys went out to play and when the kids came back inside, my nephews tattled on one of the other boys for saying bad words– “the S word, D word and the C word.” I said with alarm in my voice, “the C word!?” and my 6 year old nephew said “yes, C-R-A-P” 🤣

  83. My parents very rarely swore when I was growing up and I still remember the first time I swore in front of my mom. She was picking me and some friends up from school and one of my friends was late. I kind of sighed “ah, shit” in the back of the minivan and my mom’s eyes found mine in the rearview mirror. She didn’t say anything about it until dinner when she started crying about how “my daughter is just swearing in front of her parents now!” I felt so bad that I really watched it around her from then on! Now that we’re all adults though, I swear in front of her all the fucking time ;)

  84. Deborah says...

    Picked up my son (now 14) at daycare one day, and was greeted by the centre supervisor, who very seriously explained to me what had happened that day: one of the children in my son’s class had told another he didn’t like her and, in a move of blissful innocence, the two young teachers had sat all the kids down and asked them “What should you never say to someone?” :) (Somewhat predictably) they got a MUCH broader range of answers than what was anticipated, and all the kids learned a whole bunch of new swearwords that day (I honestly laughed and laughed… those poor girls!) But when I questioned my son, he had been too wrapped up in his own thoughts (“Mommy, you should never ‘I wish you were on fire! Oh! Or ‘I wish you fell down and hurt your bum!’… or…” and on he went. Absorbed not a word of it :)

  85. Charlene says...

    Something a coworker shared with me which we use with out six year old is “There are words you are going to hear that adults use and it’s okay for you to hear them, but not okay to say them”. We also tell him that while there aren’t really bad words, they don’t make people feel good to hear them. Our six year old thinks the s word is stupid :-)

  86. Molly says...

    Sometimes you can’t help, but laugh when kids curse! When my step-daughter, Lia, was small we were eating dinner in the dining room. On the wall of the dining room there’s a painting of two Canadian loons floating in the water. Lia, always mischievous and precocious, looked up from her meal and said very matter-of-factly: “I know what the f-word is.”

    Her dad, Mike, said, “You do? What is it?”

    She looked around, pointed to the painting, and with a giggle said, “The f-word rhymes with the picture.”

    Mike replied, “FOON?! The f-word is FOON?!”

    In fact, she did know the f-word as she thought the loons were ducks! It was hilarious. Now, about 8 years later, will still say “foon” instead of, you know, the real f-word.

    • Susie G says...

      I really love this! It’s fun to have family jokes, and “foon” is one of the best I’ve heard!

  87. We’ve taught our girls, ages 3 and 5, that people swear when they can’t think of anything else to say, which I think is pretty true. It’s taken the sting out of the words and made them less of a temptation to say something ‘bad’. That said, the 5 year old stubbed her toe the other day at home and shouted “Fuck me!”. Afterwards she said it was too hard to think of another word (fair enough) plus she used it in the right context and not at someone, so it all seemed pretty legit and I let it go without any sort of scolding.

  88. JD says...

    My daughter, Lola, was playing with dolls at the kitchen table and she had one doll exclaim “what is all this fuckus?!” she immediately looked at me and asked if it was a bad word. I explained that it wasn’t actually a word at all and that “I believe the word you are looking for is ‘ruckus’?”

  89. I have a small video clip of my three year old explaining me, when you are allowed to say shit. It goes something like “If you meet some war, or some scary dinosaur sceletons, or some normal dinosaurs that are stuck or are dying. Then you say Shit!” And honestly, I kind of agree with him. If I were in one of those situations, I’d say shit as well…

  90. Sioban says...

    My sister did the same as a young child. She had been playing with the kids up the street and came home and said to my mum “mummy, Andrew said the f-word.” So mum asked what the word was and she said “fart”.

    I have a 3 year old and my husband swears all the time. It’s terrible but luckily our son hasn’t dropped any f-bombs…yet!

  91. Emily says...

    My daughter, aged 2.5ish, at my MIL’s house looking in her suitcase for her clothing. Back turned away from me, hands on hips, mutters to herself, “where are my fucking pants?”
    Now that she’s 17, it is one of my favorite stories.

  92. Kat O says...

    A recent study showed that people who swear are considered more trustworthy – hence why I swear like a f***ing sailor :) (No kids for me though.)

  93. Elizabeth says...

    In kindergarten, my son got off the bus and confessed to me that kids were saying bad words. I knew this day would come, I just didn’t think so soon. So I asked him what was said. He told me “some boy told a girl that boys go to college to get more knowledge and girls go to Jupiter to get stupider”. Then he said a girl said the same thing but in reverse. He turned to me and still very seriously tells that isn’t true. “Girls AND boys will go Jupiter soon, we already went to the moon”.

    This was a very proud moment for my husband and me. I try to emphasize equality with our two boys and my husband is a huge lover of anything space related. :)

  94. Marissa says...

    We lived down the street from the fire station when I was a kid, and the trucks would often fly by with their sirens blaring. My sister is 9 years younger than I am, so at the wise old age of 10 I found it very entertaining that she was unable to pronounce “fire-truck”. Whenever she heard the sirens she would stop whatever she was doing to yell “F**K!” “F**K!” at the top of her lungs in her little baby voice. (…Still funny.)

  95. Sara says...

    I have a seven and a ten year old. They both know all the swear words and we allow swearing at home, in context, when it fits the situation. (They like to use their swears when talking about the government, mostly.) I know both of them well enough to know that if I made swearing a no-no they’d just want to do it more, so we use it as an opportunity to talk about words, and how they’re just words, but how words can be used to hurt other people and how powerful they can be. They also know when and where swearing is appropriate and I trust them both not to use them at school. This is kind of how we parent, though – nothing is off limits to talk about or say, but we can then discuss what is or isn’t appropriate and not feel guilty about the things we do or don’t want to say.

    • caitlin says...

      As a lover of “swears” and a hopeful future parent, this approach really appeals to me! Thank you for the great idea. :)

  96. Carol says...

    I have to admit, I am tickled every time my kids (6 & 9) swear appropriately. It’s very rare, and I keep my pleasure to myself, but it is so funny! Lately, they have been getting a kick out of talking around swear words – “I know what the S-word is!” And I react with big eyes and talk about how they don’t say ‘that adult word’. My husband and I have been using the fake swear words from the show The Good Place lately – fork, ship, bullshirt. They work just as well, and lighten the mood.

  97. Finn says...

    A memory related to “bad words” that still makes me laugh: my brother, who was around six years old, had two plastic dinosaurs. They were named Robert and Idiot, because he had heard someone call someone else an idiot and assumed it was their name! Sweet innocence :)

  98. Kate says...

    Four years old, standing in a Kohl’s in Michigan with my mother. “Katie, come here” she says. I stomp my foot and yell “No, Goddamn it!” Mom looks over to the prim older women in the same aisle. The woman is open mouthed, shocked at my language. My mom starts laughing and says I learned it from my aunt. Her personal preferred swear word is shit. Older woman makes the sign of the cross and glares at my mom.

    My mom says her only regret is that the older woman didn’t have much of a sense of humor!

  99. Sarah says...

    My husband and I curse casually but tried to seriously curb it when we had our first child 3 years ago. I was sure that my husband would be the one to slip as I am much better about censoring myself around kids.

    Well, this past summer, I was in the back yard playing ball with my son. Not knowing we were back there, my husband decided it was a great time to water the lawn and turned on the sprinkler system. I was standing directly over a sprinkler head, and as I was suddenly soaking wet exclaimed, “Damn it, Tom!” My son didn’t get wet, but his ball was directly in line of a sprinkler. I refused to get it until the water was turned off, and my son became immediately flustered and just as my husband stepped out onto the deck began angrily yelling, “Damn it, Tom! Damn it, Tom!” I feel like I lost a bet for being the one to introducing my son to cursing.

  100. Trisha says...

    Whoa man. I have a bad mouth and have really tried to curb it! But it’s hard. The other day I told my 2 year old she could have a lollipop. She was so excited she jumped up and down and said “Oh! My! God! Damn!” Wait what????? LOL! I do not say that and have no idea where she heard it! I tried to play it cool but then it started being said for every exciting thing! Which is everything to my 2 year old. It is just so hilarious the way she says it, in the happiest most excited tone! So one day after she said it I casually asked, “who say’s that Sonny?” She said, “Aunt Sed (my sister Sarah) My whole family died laughing because my sister hardly curses at all. It’s still hilarious and since we don’t really make a big deal out of it, she seems to have moved on. Until the next thing, ha!

  101. When I was in kindergarten, we went to visit my uncle in Florida, and I learned a new hand gesture while we were sitting in traffic with Uncle Mark. A few days after I came home, my teacher called my mom in to give her a picture of “a bird” I had drawn in class. Up until the day he died, my dad had the picture of a hand flipping the bird that his five year old daughter had drawn hanging in his office. He thought it was hilarious.

    • Madame says...

      I love this! We have a really similar story…My husband has a drawing in his office of a drawing given to him by his god son fifteen or so years ago( when he was maybe 5 years old) of an unidentifiable sort of monster called a “conconnardcon”. It is a string of three french swear words put together (one of which is the worst!) to make an utterly original swear word creation! Hahahah. It is a treasure.

  102. Cherie says...

    I swear. My husband swears. We swear. We know our kids will swear someday – and we’re fine with that – but it’s not appropriate for kids. So far we’ve reasoned it this way: swearing is for adults. In the same way that they can’t help themselves to a glass of wine or drive the car just because we do, they don’t get to swear. One day, but not yet. Swearing has to be considered in its context and the nuances of tone of voice, subject, audience are so important to meaning. A skill that is acquired with age.

  103. Krista says...

    I curse all the time… I didn’t so much when my daughter was young, I tried to contain myself. Now that she is almost thirteen, I’ve given up and gone back to my cursing ways. She, however, doesn’t curse at all. In fact, she gets on to me all the time for saying “bad words.”

  104. I could hear my kids arguing downstairs, and after a few minutes of silence, I heard my daughter patter up the stairs and peek into my room. She looked at me very seriously and said, “He called me the b- word.” I asked if she wouldn’t mind telling me what that word was, and she said, “Okay, mama, I really don’t like saying it out loud.” And then she whispered, “boring.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahahahaha

  105. Neither my husband or I have had too much difficulty keeping it clean around our kids, but one Friendsgiving when my oldest was two, we had a bunch of friends over our house, and none of them had kids so the language was flying. My son, Harry, seemed oblivious to all of it until my husband said “Damnit.” Shortly after that we heard him quietly testing out the new word and, of course, all the childless adults burst into laughter, encouraging the new vocabulary. I talked to my child about “bad words” and how they make some people sad so we try not to say them, to which he replied (at two years old, mind you) “But can I say them when no one is around to be sad?” So now we have a strict, only swearing in your room by yourself policy. Though he’s long forgotten the damn word and now thinks bad words include stupid and shut up.

  106. Anne says...

    My first word was shit, which cracks my kids up because I never swear now. We use nonsense swear words around our kids. We shout those instead of the real ones. It makes everyone smile. They hear nasty stuff all day at school I’m sure, and it’s nice for them to have a place where they don’t have to worry about that. An ear break.;)

  107. Tracey says...

    My son used to regularly tell me when someone said the “c” word–crap!

  108. Elspeth says...

    This reminds me of my friend. She has several children and one day her eight year old came and told her that his six year old sister called him the ‘f-word’. My friend got very angry and her daughter got a good telling off and a spank….only later when her son was telling the story to her husband did she realise: ‘I mean, Dad, I would NEVER call someone a fool!’. Haha! She had to heartily apologise to her daughter! :P

  109. Oh, this really hit home for me! I’ve always been a bit of a potty mouth (I’m known for it!) but now that my son is 2.5 I’ve had to *try* to stop swearing so much. He copies literally everything I say!
    I’ve compromised and use ‘knob’ instead of ‘asshole’, wherever possible, and although I try not to swear too much, we do still hear the odd “Oh shit!” or “Dammit!” out of his mouth. I try not to laugh, but it sounds so funny!
    I’ve tried to explain there are certain words we only say at home, that we don’t say outside or in front of granny. We’ll see if it works!

  110. C says...

    We swear pretty regularly (it’s part of the Australian culture!) and I want our daughter to see swear words as just words – words only have power when you use them to hurt people, they aren’t inherently ‘bad’.
    The rule in our house is: swear as much as you like if you need to express yourself (at home), but you don’t direct those words AT another person, or use those words to hurt someone.

    Our daughter never actually swears (hopefully taking power away from the words had the desired effect!), but she likes to ask questions about words she hears at school.

  111. Ugh, I’m the worst parent on this one. I totally swear when I’m angry. At first I didn’t think it mattered too much because we live in Sweden and my kids don’t speak much English and I would always swear in English. But then I heard them repeating it. They were saying something like “Wafafa” (WTF) and my husband was like “what are they even saying?” and I was all “I have no idea, what could it be?”. I’m so busted too because my husband only speaks Hindi with the kids, so there is no doubt where they first heard the words they’re repeating…

  112. Sarah Godden says...

    I’m a single mum, and I guiltily admitted to myself that that I actually cannot survive without a curse here and there (okay, fairly regularly). I used to be so controlled but now that my kids are 7 and 10 years old, I’ve simply added swearing to the list of things they aren’t allowed to do til they’re 18 years old. Piercings, driving, alcohol, swearing. It’s working so far! They know I’m allowed and they’re not, and it’s taken the drama out of it somehow, which is helpful because I’m absolutely sure they hear them all the time at school.

  113. juliana says...

    My 4 year old niece was on the bus with my sister when some other passenger was being really loud and obnoxious on their phone. My little niece apparently found this person very irritating, because suddenly, out of the blue she crossed her arms, rolled her eyes and said SUPER loudly “Ugh, what a DIPSHIT!” in their direction!

  114. I swear like a sailor, especially when navigating Auckland traffic. On my 18th birthday, I sat down with my mum and said “I’m 18 now. That means I can say ‘fuck’ in front of you. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!”. I’m 46 now and we still laugh about it!

  115. Erin says...

    A few years ago, on the way back from a camping trip, we stopped for two emergencies: the 5-year-old needed to pee and the adults needed coffee. I took the 5-year-old to the potty and my husband took our younger son, then about 20 months old, on the search for coffee. It took them For. Ever. and when they finally got back to the car, hubby reached into the passenger seat (where I was sitting) and handed me a cup of coffee, with no lid, followed by the toddler in quick succession. The coffee went everywhere, even in my sock.

    Me, annoyed: “Dammit!” Toddler, chirpy as a jay bird: “Dammit? Dammit?” 5-year-old, singsonging from the back seat: “You’re NOT suPPOSED to SAY that WORD!”

  116. Anathea Ruys says...

    At around three my son was frustrated when something f dropped down the back of the bed. “Oh SHIP” was his reaction. And he even side eyed me which shoes he knew SHIP was a bad word! Now at 14 we both laugh at that little sweet boy.

    • My boys think it’s pronounced, “Shed.” Just to tease them, my husband and I will occasionally say it. “Oh shed!” I will sometimes curse for emphasis when I’m very frustrated, but typically not around my kids. We are trying to break them of the habit of saying, “What the…” and “butt” all the time. They are 7 and almost 9, so it’s a losing battle at this point. :P

  117. S. says...

    We make a difference between words that aren’t directed at a person (shit, fuck) and swear words that are (won’t even mention them here). We categorically never use the second kind but unfortunately are both prone to using the first kind. Our son (3.5) does repeat those words (rarely though) and I do feel bad about but then again, he even makes a good ol’ ‘shit’ sound cute. :)

  118. Jodi says...

    My friend has a habit of saying, “Oh, word” at times when she might otherwise swear. When I asked her about it, she laughed & said she’d just always done it but didn’t know why. One night we were celebrating her birthday & somehow her mom ended up mentioning in a story that when her kids were young she’d always say, “Oh, bad word” instead of swearing! It was pretty funny to find out where, “Oh, word” had come from!

    Personally, I swear like a sailor but have no kids, so… no problem, right?!

  119. My 4 year old listens to the same songs over and over obsessively so he knows the words (he gets that from me), and right now his most requested song is “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates, and 100% because he gets to say “bitch.” He’s found the bad word loophole!

  120. BLG says...

    This happened to my sister when her son was a youngster–he was extremely fed up over something and said in a little kid voice, “Are you out of my mind?!” This never fails to make me laugh as my sister and I grew up in a household where the phrase “Are you out of your mind?” was occasionally thrown around in arguments. Kids are funny!

  121. Paige says...

    My mom still likes to remind me of when I was 4, and with all the sass in the world, I told her I knew what the very worst word in the world was and that it rhymed with duck…. BUTT!

  122. My aunt told her young son that he was free to say whatever he wanted when he was alone in his room, but when he was among others, swearing was off-limits. It seemed to work pretty well for them, and I think it’s a great way to acknowledge that swearing is a kind of “natural” thing but that manners are still important. It also gave him an acceptable place to express frustration, etc.

  123. Michaela Hyatt says...

    Growing up my parents did a pretty good job of hiding any curse words from me. When I was really mad at my mom I would call her The Darnit Lady, and I thought that was really sticking it to her! Fortunately for my 2 year old I’m a teacher, so I am really good at turning the naughty language on and off. ;)

  124. Tanya P says...

    On rare occasion one slips out, but we might be the last people who really don’t swear and our sons don’t either. We work hard for this and it is a work of mindfulness. As another comment pointed out, there are better words to use to communicate our thoughts and feelings than generic swear words. We want model this for our sons and in doing so, teach them to communicate clearly in a responsible and life-giving manner to themselves and others.

    It means that my husband I need to learn how to behave long before we expect our children to. The area to which we have recently moved is very different culturally and socio-economically than our previous area. Young kids on the playground don’t just say “dammit” when they fall, they call each other b*itch and the N word. Every other word out of their mouths is the F word.

    We thought we stood out before, but boy do we now! Parents here use these words with and to their children. It isn’t funny or cute, it’s heartbreaking.

    So no, we don’t swear and we won’t tolerate it from our children. Our four year old already speaks more eloquently than middle schoolers, we’ve been told. We’re proud of that.

  125. Gigi says...

    I swear relentlessly, and I’m embarrassed to admit, too frequently in front of the kids. Recently my husband gave a little talk at family dinner about how he’d noticed some bad language being used and the need for all of us ( I know it was directed at me!) to clean up our language. My 7yo son nodded solemnly, and then acknowledged that he had used a bad word. He volunteered that he’d said “stupid.” He then went on to say he knew another bad word that he’d heard me say (cringe!). We gave permission and he stage whispered “f*cking,” somewhat delighted/amused at the opportunity to utter an obscenity without concern of punishment. Then my 5yo raises her hand and whispers that she also knows a bad word. With our permission to say the word, she proudly exclaims “f*cking stupid!!” The conversation ended there because my husband and I could barely contain ourselves.

  126. Meredith says...

    I used to teach at a boarding school, and you just can’t swear in front of your students – and at boarding school, they are *always* around. At the same time, you really need something good that fits all those moments where only an expletive will do (see: kids always around). I settled on “Blast!”, taken from the 1994 version of Little Women. My cool factor as a teacher really took a hit, but I found it a really satisfying replacement and still use it to this day.

  127. So… last night at a big family dinner at my parent’s house I asked my mom how a Christmas party was that they attended the night prior. My mom sort of shrugged off the question and my brother dashed me a look like don’t go there. My six year old son, who picks up on everything, blurts out, “So it was a total shit show, huh?” It was hilarious and a little horrifying. My brother correctly blamed my mouth for his choice of words. Oops!

  128. Kaitlin says...

    My favourite faux-swear that I used around my summer campers was “shut the front door.” I still use it in settings where I shouldn’t swear.

    • Tawni says...

      I once heard someone say “Oh, tinker-toys!” as a faux-swear, and it has forever been my favorite

  129. Sylvie says...

    My friends have always sworn in front of their kids. At one point, the kids sat them down for a solemn conversation about please not swearing in front of their friends because it was soooo embarrassing! That’s f@#ked up! was my friends answer. FYI, the kids are older now and don’t swear at all even though their parents swear like truckers.

  130. Gina says...

    People give language meaning; no word is bad in and of itself. So, when “damn” means the exact same thing to you and your audience as “dang,” and “fucking” means the same thing as “!,” use whatever one you like best.

  131. Kristie says...

    I’ve never heard my brother or his wife swear, ever, so I was taken aback to hear my 2 year old niece yelling “dumb f*ck!” repeatedly at the top of her lungs in the garden… I look over and she is playing in the sandpit very happily… with a dump truck.

  132. Lilly says...

    My mother tried really hard not to swear with us, so instead she swore in other languages (she spoke French, but German’s her favourite.) The theory went that at least we wouldn’t *really* be swearing at school! At least not in English. For years I’d say “sheisse”, and the dog when he was being bad was a “dumkopf” (as were many people she/later I disagreed with.)

  133. Bird by Bird has long been near and dear to my heart. Loved coming across her quote here.

  134. My younger sister who is 20 has Down Syndrome, so I have to be careful about what I say in front of her even now as she still picks up anything. I remember when she was still in school I awoke to her scream ‘Dammit!’ (which was/is a bad word in our family) and her bedroom door slamming, I went out and asked what had happened, my Mum very calmly looks up at me and tells me that she had asked her to get ready for school. My sister never did it again as she didn’t get a reaction.

  135. Christine says...

    When my daughter (now 12) was in the 2nd grade, my husband was helping her with her math work. He became frustrated with the way they’re teaching math nowadays and said “this is stupid, let me show you a simpler way.” The next day in class, my daughter said in front of her whole class “my dad called this way of doing math the ‘s word.'” She said “s word” because we discouraged her from saying “stupid” back then. We crafted an email apology to the teacher explaining the mix up. But regardless, he’d still called the “new math” she was teaching stupid! :) She was great about it and said “yeah, we call the old math ‘mommy and daddy’s way.'”
    Shit.

  136. Ria says...

    My husband and I realised we had to stop swearing in front of our daughter when she was about 2 and a half. We were at the beach, and she was walking along the sand, turning over all the rocks she could find and saying “where are the fucking crabs?”. Lololololol, still makes me laugh about 10 years later!

  137. Jessica says...

    When my brother and I learned ‘shit’ from our older sister my mom tricked us so hard. We were going around saying it because we thought it was cool/bad. She said, “yeah, okay, that’s a bad word. Please don’t say it. But what I really NEVER want to hear you say is ‘Cabbage’ If I hear you say cabbage around me, you will be in SO MUCH trouble.” So then we went around saying cabbage and telling our friends about the worst swear word…Cabbage.

    • Tawni says...

      Haha! I love this

  138. My 5 and 2 year olds both cuss, but it seems like they mostly do it at home where they hear it. At least, the teachers don’t tell us about them busting out bad words at school! Despite our more graphic language, they both seem to favor “damn it!” and they sound like they are 80 years old. I wonder if they will think that cussing is lame later because their parents do it? Maybe our kids are going to be Alex P. Keatons, free of tattoos and refusing to use curse words beyond “dagnabit!”

  139. Rebecca says...

    Driving along after a really stressful day when I’d let slip a few swears and there is a cyclist riding in the middle of the road. So I say to my two-year-old, “That cyclist better be careful, there’s a lot of traffic on this road.” To which he mutters, “Fucking cyclist.” That, while hilarious, was a good wake-up call that I now had an audience that was closely watching everything I say.

  140. Maywyn says...

    Makes me laugh…Many years ago, I was very tired of people baby talking to my (then) two year son about where he got all that beautiful curly hair. Son’s feelings about it surfaces one day when an elderly woman is going on and on about his curly hair. He’s in the shopping cart staring up at her with a blank sort of what the face, and with spot on perfect tone in his voice, says so clearly you’d think he was born talking,”Oh shit.”
    I felt pride in his ability to express such a complicated emotion. It was a major mother and son bonding moment, as we were thinking the very same thing. He didn’t grow up swearing. But he knew how.

  141. Jess says...

    Driving around one day my kids and I came upon a road block sign. my 3 year old let out “look, it’s the f-cking sh-t sign!”. “What’s that?” I said. “F-cking sh-t, daddy say f-cking sh-t at the sign”…i later came to find out that a similar sign was blocking them on the walk to school. We still call that sign the “f-cking sh-t sign bc cursing from little kids is adorable and that was seriously too funny to forget. I just tell them don’t say those words at school, your teachers won’t like it. So far, so good.

  142. Amy says...

    When our eldest son was a baby and, you know, you’re adjusting to those explosive biohazard poops your baby drops on you, I guess my husband’s knee jerk response was to breathe out “Jesus Christ” in a sort of a pained, whispered cry. It must have happened so often that one day, when my son was learning to talk, my husband was changing his diaper and our babe looked into his darling father’s eyes and said, “Jeez Ess Crise?” in the sweetest little questioning tone. Like, “Is this one whopper of a poop or what, Daddio?”

  143. Lilly says...

    My mom used to swear all the time, but not my dad. Interestingly, my siblings and I never swear. Most of the people in our lives were swearing all the time. We admired that my dad didn’t. We followed his example voluntarily.

    I married someone who doesn’t swear. Our kids don’t swear.

    And our grandkids won’t swear either (jk!)

  144. Charity says...

    Last week, my 2 year old daughter sauntered into the room, singing this cheerful song: “Fuck, fuck, fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck! Fucky, fucky, fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck!!!”
    I’m about 99% sure she was trying to say “frog”, but there’s that 1% of me that is unsure.
    I try to keep my language clean around her, but old habits die hard! Oddly, “fuck” is really the only swear word I use; I’ve said it under my breath enough that she’s heard me once or twice 😬

    • Catharine says...

      That reminds me of a story about my cousin. Her great aunt lived with the family and was bedridden and wore glasses. My cousin, aged around 3 or 4 at the time, thought because the great aunt was old, bedridden and optically challenged she must also be deaf – she wasn’t!
      My cousin proceeded to sing “fuck, fuckety, fucky, fuck” at great length at the end of the bed whilst the great aunt did her best to hold in the laughter. My cousin got her mouth washed out with soap and the great aunt took great pride in telling the story until she passed away many years later.