Raising Richmond: You can’t say that again

Kids and bad language is a gray area. There are bad words, not bad words, and then all the words my daughter says.

The other night over dinner my husband and I were talking about someone whose last name happens to be “Butts.”

Me: Are you going to see Chris Butts?

My daughter: Chris Butts. Chris Butts. Chris Butts.

Me: That’s enough.

Her: Why can’t I say “Chris Butts?”

My husband: You heard your mother.

Me: Well, I did just say “Chris Butts.”

Her: Chris Butts.

Me: That’s enough.

Her: Cheese butts.

Me: Hey.

Her: Cheese bottom.

— ∮∮∮ —

Why Can’t I Say ‘Butts?’ is going to be the title of the parenting book I will one day never write. I have no reasonable answer to this question, but it has to be flagged as a bad word because I assume her peers aren’t supposed to be saying it, so she shouldn’t say it either.

My daughter likes to give us a daily briefings on who says what at daycare. She tends to pin it all on her friend Pete (we have informed his parents). We hear: “Pete said ‘bo-bo head,’ ‘jellyhead,’ ‘stupid head,’ ‘smellyhead.'”

For the two-to-five set, the biggest insult you can dish about someone is that something has gone wrong with his or her head. My husband has figured out that she thinks the only way she can get away with saying what she assumes are bad words is if she is quoting them. This sort of works, but now we’re in the “stop snitching on your friends, nerd” territory. Also, she is going to lose her mind when she learns that “butthead” is a word.

There are three levels of bad words that she uses:

Level One: Actual swear words, mostly learned from me when I drop things/am mad at pets.

Level Two: Old fashioned name-calling words like “stupid.” When she’s older I’ll teach her that some people are stupid and give her my list.

Level Three: Words that we think she thinks are bad, only because of the sly way she says them. Like jellyhead. It could be a term of endearment. No one knows.

Before she turned two, she had a brief phase of saying “dammit,” and then this past weekend she dropped something in the bathroom and marched out saying “dammit” a few times. After she and I had a conversation about it being a bad word that only adults could say, it added more shadiness to teaching language to kids.

Other than the occasional casual swears and name calling, there’s nothing technically wrong with the words she says. She’s not breaking rules or hurting anyone when she says silly words.

When we have teachable moments with her after she does something wrong or hurtful, we explain the practical reason why she shouldn’t do something, but when the reason is “because you’re currently not pooping, so stop talking about it,” I feel like it invalidates times when I legitimately need her to stop doing something.

Kids just say silly, weird, gross things, and I mostly advise her to stop or even discipline her if she says light-bad words after I tell her not to, but it’s hard to stay on it because I only pretend to care.

No one wants to hear a small child say bad words in real life, and mostly no one wants to hear bathroom talk, and that’s about all small kids talk about when they have a break between singing songs from Frozen. But I also don’t want anyone to point to me if I don’t censor my child and she teaches “bad” words to other kids. That is just a nonsense problem though. My child is not the verbal patient zero for the word “butt.” Other kids will say it in her generation even if I had shushed it out of her.

Curbing her language definitely falls into the “not an essential worry” bucket, it’s just a constant one that spills over into the “Wait, is this a thing I need to do something about?” bucket?1

But if I have to get on her about words, she definitely gets on me about them, too, as I am the reason she knows when to say “dammit.” She makes me apologize when I call something stupid. I have to apologize to the dog a lot. And to parking lots.

If I can’t think of a good reason why she can’t say a word, then I can’t say it in front of her either. She repeats everything she hears now. In a few years she’ll know to say all bad words when I’m not around. And further down the road, I’ll resume swearing occasionally, and she’ll be old enough to swear in front of me, too. It’s an unspoken milestone, but dammit, it’ll be a good one.

Photo by: Mel B.

  1. I just came back from Ikea where I bought a lot of buckets for $3.99. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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