You know, I’ve done a pretty good job cleaning up my language since my daughter was born. To say that I used to swear like a sailor would be a vast understatement. It didn’t take long after my daughter was born to realize that your kids want to be just like you. They pick up your mannerisms, they pick up the way you talk, and of course they mimic the things you say. Here and there I’ve noticed I’ve let a few choice words slip out, but thankfully they are usually under my breath and only in morning traffic. It’s not that I have an unrealistic idea that four letter words aren’t going to happen in my daughter’s world, it’s just that when you realize your child is a reflection of you, you take more note and care of what kind of person you would like to be as well.
Now my wife and I have a pretty lax policy when it comes to exposing our daughter to the reality of the English language. I thoroughly believe that there is a time and place for the words we use, and occasionally there really is a time and place for an expletive. Well maybe that part is more my belief and less my wife’s, but who’s keeping score? Something like hitting your thumb with a hammer, now that is quite possibly one of those times I can see letting a more colorful word slip out.
As my daughter navigates her way through school I realize that she will come in contact with words that she may not have heard at home. We really don’t curse much, if at all, but the rest of the world does, and we know that. We have found it very important to have an open door policy on questioning those words so she has no confusion about what time and place if any of those words are acceptable. She knows that she can ask us anything, and not worry about getting the “third degree” about it.
This has become a pretty important way for us to communicate with our daughter, build trust, and help her learn about different sides of life that she is not exposed to at home. Although I would rather her not hear those four letter words out on the playground, I do realize that things like that happen and her best defense in those situations is education.
“Dad?” She asked me as I was driving her home from school one day. “Yes dear” I replied. “Can I ask you a question about a word?” She nervously stammered. “Of course you can, you can ask me anything.” I quickly and reassuringly replied.
What came next was a guessing game of sorts where she described the word that she had heard and I had to decipher what she was talking about before I could even begin to explain. She told me what letter it started with, and that she thought it might be a bad word but wasn’t sure. Without divulging too much further, it was in fact a four letter word. “How funny” I thought to myself as I wondered what context she could have heard it in. What word it was though, will be between her and I.
I honestly and quickly explained to her what the word meant, why it was inappropriate, and why we didn’t need to say words like that. She now was armed with the knowledge of what type of word it was, and why she never needed to use it at all. She didn’t get scolded for asking me about the word, and I didn’t question her any further. I already knew that she heard it at school that day, and it didn’t matter who said it, or even if she was saying it as well. What really mattered was the open line of communication and then being able to take the mystery out of the word. At her age things like curse words are still so very taboo and I do understand that there can be a great deal of excitement surrounding them. Being able to speak to her honestly gives her the option to decide if she wants to be the type of person that talks that way or not.
Later that day we went to the beach. We had a great afternoon playing and enjoying the sand, sun, and fun. On our way back to our car we walked past a group of college aged kids who were obviously celebrating something. By the looks of that they had been celebrating that something for a few hours now. As our family quickly hustled by then they started shouting that same four letter word we talked about earlier to each other. It was obvious that my daughters ears perked up. “There’s that word again ” I laughed to my daughter. “That is the perfect example of the type of people that say words like that.” I said, grinning to her. That was all I had to say. My daughter smiled and looked up at me and told me she didn’t want to be anything like that. It was a great way to drive the message home. She understood the levity of the word, and how uncomfortable it made her feel hearing people say it. I’m not so naive to think that she won’t be exposed to words like that, but it’s how we react and if we decide to take part in them that matters.
My daughter is still a little bit too young to hit her thumb with a hammer and pick out her favorite four letter word to say. However my only hope is that with the open communication my wife and I have with her that if she does decide to use a four letter word when she is older, that it is grammatically correct, contextually appropriate, and a damn good one.