Teaching Kids to Swear

If you hear my son call someone an idiot, it is because of me.

If you hear my son call someone stupid, it is because of me.

If you, Heaven forbid, ever hear my son blurt a four letter expletive, that is also because of me.

If you hear my son say that he would slap you if you don’t do as he says, well, you know how this goes, yep…that is also because of me. (Mind you, threat only).

Hello, I am her. Bad Mom of the Century.

No paragon of perfection. Not even remotely.

Whether it is in a controlled road rage kind of a situation, which is usually the case because stupid people who don’t know how to drive, indecisive and flaky drivers who change their minds at the last minute, distracted drivers who don’t move even when the signal turns green, waiting in the same red light twice because of some idiot’s stupidity over not moving in time before the signal changed…are all natural triggers for me to slip on words not usually uttered before kids. To his credit, the usual reactions I get from TJ when I do go off my rockers are:

“Calm down, Mommy.”

“It’s okay, Mommy.”

“It’s not a big deal, Mommy.”

Then, there are the ones I use when things don’t go my way under any situation. Using swear words in high-stress/extreme-anxiety moments has become my default language setting. I have made conscious efforts to bite my lip and not let something that I might regret later slip and it works, but only a little over half the time.

The kid is extremely impressionable. He spends a lot of time with and around me and has started to get the contexts under which to use such words. You can pretend to be someone you are not for a little bit but eventually, when you spend all day every day having to mind your language ALL the time and especially when toddler tantrums of every degree, whether in public or private become the norm, and you still have to retain your marbles enough to cook, clean, feed, change, wipe, play, and work, among a few hundred mundane everyday things that just absolutely need to get done, something’s gotta give somewhere, at some time or the other. Otherwise, might as well hire a robot to do all the things you need to get done. A robot that doesn’t swear, of course.

I know how it looks. I know you are judging me right now. I know you are praising yourself for having your language firmly under control when kids are around. I know you are perhaps feeling smug. I know you are feeling gratitude for perhaps being a mother who yells but one who never swears around her kids. I know you are feeling bad, sad, or even angry toward me and for my kids. I know you are feeling somewhat embarrassed at the one and only time you accidentally stubbed a toe and uttered a swear word.

I have never claimed perfection. Far from it. In fact, I have even honestly declared that I am not even just an “okay” mother. I have been extremely open about my many, many flaws, as a mother and perhaps even as a person. I have cried countless number of times for what a failure I am at motherhood. I have written posts after posts about yelling, trying not to yell, and yelling even more. I have heard many times from Aaron that I am an irresponsible mother and it hurts every time he says that, dismissing, negating, undermining, and invalidating any ounce of good I may have even tried to do in my tenure as mom. Today, he even said, “If he (TJ) gets sent back from school because he called someone a bad word, it will be because of you” and he is right. Other members of my close family have told me about how I could do much, much better by my kids. I fail at motherhood every. single. day. I do two things right. Maybe. Then, I end up doing three things wrong. Failure. Three times over.

I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know what to tell myself. I mean I know what I should tell myself. I know what I should do.


In a 2013 article published in the Dailymail.Com, authors Hugo Gye and David Gardner in discussing Melissa Mohr’s book, Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing write that: (para, 11-13)

Rather than lazy language, obscenities can have practical uses, such as providing relief from pain if a person gets hurt, for instance when you hit your hand with a hammer.

Studies have shown that swearing sometimes has a genuine physiological effect on the body.

Swearing also helps to form social solidarity – for example, when workers use swear words while talking about their managers, it builds an ‘in-group’ which aids social and professional interaction.

Research has revealed that kids these days are learning to swear at much younger ages than generations before them. Research by Jay and Jay (2013) showed that, “…by the time children enter school they have the rudiments of adult swearing, although children and adults differ in their assessments of the inappropriateness of mild taboo words.” Of course, as with most things, context matters. Riggio (2012) explains that, “The same swear word can be used as an insult, an exclamation of surprise, or as an expression of pleasure when in the throes of passion.”

Then, there is this well-opined piece by Benjamin Bergen, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, in which he basically writes that swearing in front of your kids is not all that it is made out to be, that is, if you know what you are doing, and know how to move on after such an utterance occurs.

He writes:

There’s no [scientific] proof that exposure to ordinary profanity — four-letter words — causes any sort of direct harm: no increased aggression, stunted vocabulary, numbed emotions or anything else. (para 10)

He continues (paras 11-12),

Of course, parents aren’t holding their tongues solely because they think hearing a bad word will turn their kid into a criminal. They also worry that the kid will turn around and use it. And yet the largest observational study — again we don’t have controlled experiments — found that childhood swearing is largely innocuous. Scientists documented children ages 1 to 12 naturally producing thousands of taboo utterances, and only rarely witnessed negative repercussions. On no occasion did swearing lead to physical violence. Instead, taboo words were used mostly for positive reasons, for instance humor, and mostly were not produced out of anger.

Still, I understand that, science aside, many adults simply don’t like the thought of children using profanity; they think it’s inappropriate, or unseemly or a sign of poor family values. After all, that’s how these adults were indoctrinated as children. A child who uses strong language may therefore risk punishment, among other negative reactions, at the hands of adults who don’t tolerate it.

The problem, he explains, is not so much that a child swears but that doing so is a sure shot way to bring disrepute to him/herself and to his/her parents and the values in which the child is raised. He concludes (para 15),

Through coaching, parents can help children develop a healthy relationship with their native tongue, including the parts that allow them to communicate their strongest emotions.

After all, in the wise words of NPR’s Allison Aubrey, “As most parents come to recognize, teaching good judgment is not a one-time event; it’s a process.”

As for me, I am going to have to seriously start thinking about how I am going to work on myself. Swearing is not okay. Even though I can somehow try to feebly defend what I do by saying that I am also teaching my kids about saying, Thank Yous, Sorrys, Pleases, being kind and generous, and such, somehow those don’t seem to matter much. There is the argument about free speech and ‘no-filters in the family’, the only place you can be yourself kind of logic but that’s no good for me.

I don’t want my kids to swear before they are old enough to understand what and why they are saying what they are and the potential consequences of these powerful words (again, I get the argument about how we choose to give words power). There is the thing about creative self-expression but at least till they are old enough to fully understand that their creativity needs swearing, the buck to change my language and model good emotional control starts and ends with me. Sigh.


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A former Communication Studies professor turned a somewhat reluctant stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), I blog about my adventures raising two multiracial kids. I write about parenting and living a multicultural Indian-Canadian-American HinJew life with honesty, a few tears, lots of laughter, and gallons of coffee.
Blogger at: www.thephdmama.com
Follow me: @thephdmama

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  1. Yesterday I used the eff word repeatedly to my 13 year old daughter because I was frustrated at my daily chores that were effing killing me. I have used the s word to her since she was eight. Heaven knows what else I have used in her presence earlier.
    Do you think another mother would ever judge you?

    1. Thanks for sharing L. Thing is, I know some people will judge. Mothers or not, doesn’t matter. The fear or insecurity, if you will, comes from the secrecy around this whole swearing issue. I have never read an article that discusses a parent’s cursing as openly. Sure, there are articles like the ones I cite, and others that discuss all the evil that will unleash on kids when grown-ups swear, but none that openly said, “I used swear words but my kids turned out just fine…” It is just not socially acceptable to admit something like this. People will wax eloquent about the breastfeeding vs formula wars, the co-sleeping vs. not, the vaccinating vs not, and others like that…but swearing…a diplomatic silence. One is then led to believe (at least I am) that perhaps I am the only one with this problem. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I stop doing it when I know better and when millions of other mothers don’t. Again, what is wrong with ME? I can only try harder. Again.

  2. I doubt there’s a parent alive who hasn’t dropped a swear-bomb in front of their children at some point. I’m not judging you, just thinking, “There but for the grace of God …”.

    1. 🙂 Thanks.

  3. Definitely no judgment here. I’m guilty of turning the air quite blue when I get very cross about something and I’m not always as good as filtering my language when my children are within earshot. Interesting to read the article about children swearing. To them it really is just another word but it’s more an issue with how it’s perceived within society. My eldest has come out with the f word once and I know she heard it from me. I told her that it wasn’t a word that children should use, and it wasn’t a very nice word for grown-ups to use either and that if she ever said it in school, her teachers would be likely to be very cross. I’ve never heard her use it since. Now to work on my own self-control. Good luck with working on yours! #sharingthebloglove

    1. Thank you, Louise. Your comment is reassuring. You’re so right about it being about self-control. I’ve gotten better since giving myself a long hard scolding to and a hard look in the mirror. I hope they stay that way. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  4. No judgement here either, you do what’s right for you and I do what’s right for me, that’s always been my motto. I don’t actually swear really, like once in a blue moon maybe, so it’s not something I ever really thought about and until recently my 13 year old though that the C word was crap!! Thank you for joining us at #Sharingthebloglove

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