I recently had the privilege of being invited to ABCnews.com “Moms Get Real” segment to discus swearing and children. This topic really got me thinking especially as my oldest enters the world of school as I’m sure many of your children are also doing. Not only will they be the subject of influence by other children who have in turn been influenced by their parents, but they will also be subject to what is socially accepted and if they stray too far from this, for example by swearing to deal with anger and frustration, they are likely to experience a more difficult time both in treatment from the teachers and perhaps even by the other children.
Let’s face it, while it may be normal to hear someone swearing on the streets of New York City, it just isn’t normal to hear a three year old cursing at a set of blocks that aren’t balancing right. Added to all this that toddlers often have a hard time dealing with anger and frustration and swearing suddenly becomes rather a hot topic because it is after all what most adults do to vent.
My oldest is three years old and so very good at picking up many of the words he hears around him, although so far I haven’t heard a peep of a profanity. My youngest is 7 months and while he can’t yet talk his language skills are developing daily. Although, I’m pretty sure the first English sentence he utters won’t be “Mom, it really pisses me off when you leave the food around my mouth while feeding me peas!” However, I am still concerned that they need to understand the appropriate ways to deal with situations for which many people may use swear words for. So what is more important perhaps than the actual swear words is why we use them and what that is teaching our children about anger and interestingly enough, also dealing with pain.
Articles like this one in Scientific American (yes I’m a dork) highlight research that swearing might actually lessen the effects of pain and allow us to deal with it longer. Does this mean we should be teaching our toddlers the F-bomb in order to alleviate the pain and tears of a scraped knee? Absolutely not, as it appears swear words are less effective over time as a coping mechanism which means we need to teach a different way to deal with pain and anger. Not to mention the fact that while a swearing three year old may handle pain slightly better they will also spend most of his or her time in the pre-school principal’s office and may no longer be welcome at play-dates.
I think this raises the much bigger issue for parents in thinking about how we deal with pain and anger both an individual’s anger and perhaps anger between a couple. Before we have children it is easy to react to painful or anger inducing situations without thinking but when you become a parent you become a role model and have to adopt the very same coping mechanisms you want to teach your children and swearing isn’t that coping mechanism.
So I think this is a great time to work a little harder on how we deal with pain and anger so we set good examples for our wee ones in how to express them in a way that communicates without offending others. This is also a great time to teach awareness of where they are in the world and empathy of how their words and actions impact others. Because let’s face it, little Johnny saying ‘F*%k I hurt my knee” just really isn’t going to cut it!