Julie Merberg has a very short problem. It's only four letters, which is the length of the words spilling out of the mouth of her angel-faced three-year-old son, Mac.
Julie isn't exactly sure where all this started -- possibly with Mac's three older brothers, who are 12, eight and six, and probably with Julie herself (she admits to getting "a little sailor when my buttons are pushed"). But whatever the origins, one things she is sure about is that a three-year-old should not be saying things like "Where's my f***ing baba?" (Yes, Mac actually used the word; no, I can't bring myself to do so; yes, I figure someone is going to go put that one on a t-shirt.)
Just a few days ago, Julie tells me, Mac was thumbing through a toy catalog picking out prospective presents when he called her over to take a look: "Holy sh*t Mommy! You have to come see this." She adds, ruefully: "Mother of the year, I am..."
It is one thing to know you have a problem, and another to fix it (particularly when you are a root of it in the first place). Julie has tried, she writes in an email:
We know enough to not laugh or reinforce it in any way. I've tried taking away things like his "baba" (comfort nighttime milk) on days when he uses bad words. But nothing works. If your experts have any ideas, I'd love to hear them!
I brought Betsy Brown Braun aboard to give Julie some advice. Betsy's a child development and behavior specialist and the author of You're Not the Boss of Me: Brat-proofing your Four-to-Twelve-Year-Old Child.
Betsy warns that Julie has to start with her own mouth. Maybe a "swear jar" for Mom, in which she has to place 50 cents every time she curses -- making her children the enforcers? Because if Mom doesn't stop, Mac will never stop. Kids repeat what they hear, Betsy says, and then they keep repeating it when they see everyone giggling. So no more giggles, even if this is, on one level, pretty funny. As for punishment, taking away something hours later isn't going to make any difference, Betsy suggests. Instead give a stern and matter-of-fact reminder, then move on.
Now, it's your turn. Do you have a potty-mouth problem at your house? What doozies have come out of those pouty little lips? What have you done in the moment? How about longer term? Use the comments to give Julie some advice. But try to keep it clean, or you will send our moderating filters into spasms.