Four Things NOT to Do When Your Kid Says a Bad Word

The other day at DryBar, the eight-year-old noticed a gift card with “Lucky Bi*ch” inscribed on the front. “That’s weird,” she said with a confused expression. She knows the “B” word isn’t a nice word. I was silent. I should have told her that sometimes adults use bad words in unique and affectionate ways, and that we still don’t use those words, but I froze. I was speechless. The thought of her coming home one day and telling me her friend was a lucky bi*ch is all I could think about and that was too much. So, I forced a smiled and nodded. Just when I thought I was past the bad word phase with G, it resurfaced and I wasn’t prepared. I never considered, until this moment, that I would also have to teach her about bad words used in a certain context.

Truth is, I’ve been preoccupied lately with helping her little brother with the basic “bad words we don’t use 101.” He is proving to be a bit more of a challenge than she was at his age.

A year and a half ago, my little five-year-old started having potty mouth. Like most little boys, he fell in love with anything poo and boo-boo related. Then, his fascination grew to anything booty related. “Booty butt” this and “booty butt” that. “Stinky butt-cha” this and “stinky butt-cha” that. That last one became his go-to phrase whenever he wanted to put his older sister in her place — “You can’t tell me what to do you stinky butt-cha!”

At one point, I am embarrassed to admit, I let him think “ship” was a bad word for far too long. He must have heard the real word but mistakenly thought it was “ship.” When he asked me if it was indeed a bad word, in a moment of panic, I said yes. If he knew the real word, it would fly out of his mouth far too often and so I thought I was doing the right thing. And until that moment, his bad words were age appropriate made up variations of anything butt or poop. “Ship” was taking it to another level because it was based on an actual bad word. Needless to say, yesterday I had to tell him the truth. Each time he said “ship” and looked guilty at me because he thought he was going to get into trouble and each time his friends tried telling him that it wasn’t a bad word, I felt horrible. So, between the “ship” incident and Bruno Mars’ 24 Karat Magic album, which we play each morning commuting to school, we have started the discussion about real curse words with a five-year old that likes to look you in the face and do exactly what you have just told him not to do, just to push the envelope.

(Side note: Bruno, you are definitely a Johnson family favorite and we love you. But please, next time make a clean version of your entire album and release it alongside the regular version. Hearing my son sing “if you ain’t here to party take you’re a** back home” at the top of his lungs isn’t fun and it could easily be “if you ain’t here to party take yourself back home.” Help a Motha out!)

I was mildly mortified in the beginning by the depths of my son’s potty mouth but I honestly didn’t think too much of it. Instead I assumed it was a normal phase and thought, this too shall pass. I was worried, however, that giving it too much energy would make it into more of a thing than if I didn’t pay it much attention. Parents know how easily nothing turns into something for the sake of attention. And so, now we find ourselves stifling smiles or cringing in social settings whenever any of these words come out of his mouth and we do our best to make sure he understands that these words are not appropriate and hurtful.

The most horrific part of all is the notion that my son might be teaching these words to other boys his age. After all, we’re pretty sure that’s where a lot of this all started – in pre-school with a slew of boys that have older siblings (because you know, it couldn’t be coming from our home). What must other parents think of my kid? Am I that parent that misread the signs and let something go on for far too long? Am I that parent that other parents talk about on playdates because of my inability to manage my potty-mouthed child? We’ve tried the typical recommendations for parents trying to help stop potty mouth. The experts have some great suggestions for parents but they don’t seem to work for our son and despite our attempts not to make this into a thing, it’s definitely become a thing. I’m almost to the point of threatening to do what my parents did–wash his mouth out with soap. It just seems so cruel and I don’t think I could stomach it. Until he gets it or I muster up the ability to stifle my gag reflex so that I can wash his mouth out, the daily struggle continues.

Listen little girl, I wasn’t prepared for this phase about words and so I made some bad decisions in the heat of the moment. That’s going to happen from time to time so I’m going to cut myself some slack and move on. Moms are not perfect and we do not have all the answers. But we love you and know that when you are teaching your children about bad words, you too might mess it up. That’s life. But learn from your mama. Here are four things not to do when your little people enter the potty mouth phase.

Four Things NOT to Do When Your Child Says a Bad Word

  1. Don’t freeze when your child curses — jump on it and talk it out, even if you’re waffling through it. And if you do freeze, revisit it as soon as possible and talk to your child.
  2. Don’t be dishonest and let your child think normal words are “bad” words. This is just a recipe for disaster and goes against the most fundamental lesson we all try to teach our children — not to lie.
  3. Don’t forget that education about words is ever evolving because our language is ever evolving. That means this phase is a long one (from poop, booty and bi@ch to new words like thot and new phrases like getting your face beat).
  4. Don’t become an old foggie. Keep up with the jargon and slang your kids will hear. Between the radio, internet, friends and more, your children are going to learn words and phrases that haven’t even been created yet. There will be plenty of teachable moments when these new words and phrases enter mainstream, pop culture. So, you better stay hip and in the know about the lingo.

Published by Lisa Meyers Johnson

Lisa Meyers Johnson is the creator of Listen Little Girl, a blog dedicated to her eight-year-old daughter. Lisa created the blog because she knows that being a little girl isn't easy and becoming a woman can be even harder. She hopes that by sharing her experiences, thoughts, and life lessons, it will empower her daughter, and moms and girls everywhere, to support one another along the journey of being/becoming a woman. Lisa currently consults with nonprofits and teaches graduate and undergraduate students about public relations for nonprofits at the University of Southern California. Prior to this, Lisa was an accomplished communications, marketing, and development professional and worked for organizations including the American Cancer Society, Magic Johnson Enterprises/Magic Johnson Foundation, ABC, Ketchum Public Relations, and Black Entertainment Television. Find her @lisabrandgirl on IG, Lisa Meyers Johnson on FB and @brandgirl on Twitter.

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