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?