Why haven’t you taught me swear words?

The question caught me off guard.

“Mum, why haven’t you taught me any swear words?”

My first thought was self-congratulatory. I’m not adverse to the odd swear word here and there, so raising a child to seven years old without teaching her a single one is somewhat noteworthy. My next thought was why on earth did she think I should be teaching her swear words. So I asked her, “Why would I?”

Her answer was so logical that it made me wonder if I’ve been getting it all wrong.

“I know swear words are bad, so how do I avoid saying them if I don’t know what they are?”

It’s logical really. She’s seven, she doesn’t want to swear. She certainly doesn’t want to do it in front of a teacher. But children learn language by being submersed in it. Every person they speak to introduces them to new concepts, ideas and words. How was she to know which ones were bad if I’d never told her?

How do you deal with swearing?

I don’t remember speaking to my parents or anybody else about swearing as a child. My knowledge of the words I should and shouldn’t say just developed with age. I don’t really recall being told off for swearing until I was well aware of exactly what I was saying. As a child, there were words I knew I shouldn’t say. As a teenager, I’d test the water. Saying them in front of my friends, feeling my way as to what was acceptable and what wasn’t. By the time I was a young adult, I’d realised that it was virtually impossible to communicate with certain people without swearing. To them, at them and about them.

So clearly, my parents dealt with swearing by trusting me to pick it up as I went along. That was the approach I’d assumed I’d take too. After all, I can’t exactly provide her with a list.

The conversation with my seven year old continued after her initial query. Next, she told me that she knew one swear word. She knew it was bad. I asked what the word was. It was “f*cking hibble”. I asked her to repeat it about six times, because I had no idea what she was saying. She sheepishly kept saying it. I realised the phrase she’d heard was probably f*cking hell, so I told her it was f*cking hell. Then, we had a chat about it. Yes, it was a swear word. No, she should never say it in front of anybody because it was unpleasant and it’s not nice to swear, especially when you’re only seven. She agreed that she wouldn’t say it and seemed relieved that she knew what it was and that it was definitely a word to avoid.

Have I got this completely wrong?

I trust my children not to drop the f bomb in front of their elderly aunt or headteacher. And I realise that now I’ve had the conversation with them (the five year old was listening intently as well), they’re even less likely to use it. So, have I been getting my approach to this completely wrong?

Maybe when someone accidentally swears in front of them (not me, obviously – I have a seven year old who doesn’t know any swear words) I should grab it as a learning opportunity. Perhaps the conversation should go something like this.

“The word that [unidentified sweary person] just said is a swear word. You can add that to your list of words you never say, especially in front of [unidentified judgey person]. “

I’d be really interested to hear how you deal with this. Is there a formula that parents of older children have developed and kept to themselves? Or are we all just bumbling along, crossing our fingers that the day we take them to a posh restaurant isn’t the day they choose to ask for a sh*tload of chips on the side?

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  1. I love this and will probably now write a massive comment about it… When I was 7 I used to talk to these two 13yo girls a lot who said the f word constantly. I had no idea what it meant, but of course I picked it up. When I said it in front of my mum, I got such a telling off that I didn’t dare utter the word again until I was 17! Ironically, words like ‘sh*t’ and ‘boll*x’ were quite acceptable at home from when I was about 13.
    As an adult I used to swear quite a lot, but have never sworn in front of the kids. And as I never speak to adults any more, I don’t actually swear any more (and I actually enjoy swearing sometimes does that make me weird?!). Now they are older I will say ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’ in front of them, but nothing worse. Over the last year or two, the boys have started saying the odd ‘sh*t’ and ‘boll*x’ at home and I let it go. They are old enough to do that. I’m aware that some of their friends tell their parents to ‘f*ck off’ so I think we are doing OK!

    1. I am the same, I think swear words have value. They’re just words after all, and they are definitely a way of expressing your feelings. The more comfortable I feel in front of people, the more sweary I am. I wouldn’t want the girls to grow up unable to tell people to ‘f’ off because it is quite empowering. That said, I certainly don’t want them saying it as children so it’s a difficult balance.

  2. I quite like your approach although I can see your daughter’s logic! I have to confess that I can be quite bad at dropping a few swear words in front of the children but the first time that each of them repeated said word, I did sit down and explain that they were grown-up words that weren’t very nice to use (even for grown-ups) and that they shouldn’t repeat them, especially at school or in front of their grandparents. But it’s true that they can’t know what words they shouldn’t say until they’ve heard them or said them and been informed of that! x

    1. Oh I didn’t have you down as the sweary type Louise 😉
      Sitting them down and explaining about the words when you hear them say them seems entirely reasonable. I think it’s one of those things we just have to decide as we go along isn’t it?

  3. I definately fall into the bumbling along school of parenting and answer the awks questions when they arise, with honesty and a smile!

  4. Yeah, it’s an awkward one. How should you handle bad language and educating your kids about it? I do get your logic. if they’re gonna learn about this stuff, is it better it should come from people they trust rather than the playground? Oh I’m going ot have to ponder over this one!