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Leah Ariniello Headshot

An Unorthodox Cure For Cursing Children

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I found the note in his backpack. On festive stationary adorned with images of pencils and apples, the kindergarten teacher wrote in curly script that she had instructed my sweet boy that day to use "kind" words, when talking with other students. Not words like "shit."

"Shit? Shit!" I thought to myself.

And so began my venture four years ago into hypocritical parenting at it's best, or is it at it's worst?

I curse. Not all the time, but I definitely drop some f-bombs on occasion. Stub my toe? F-bomb. Drop the grocery bag with the eggs? F-bomb. Husband does something beyond annoying? "What the" f-bomb? I say.

I don't think it's that big of a deal for adults to swear on occasion. If a new acquaintance peppers their speech with a curse word here and there, I get the sense that they're "real," they don't have a stick up their butt. I like them more for it. Timothy Jay, an expert on cursing and a psychology professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, has written that "swearing is like using the horn on your car." I can relate. There are times when swearing offers me that type of relief. Sometimes it just makes me feel better. One 2009 study actually found evidence that swearing alleviates pain. Specifically cursing college students reported less pain and could keep their hands immersed in icy cold water longer than students repeating neutral words.

Vindication! F-bomb yah!

But while I may have rationalized my own cursing, I don't think it's appropriate for my kids to swear. And so, for the past four years my family has had countless conversations about "inappropriate" words, all while I covertly swear behind their backs.

When I asked my son about the kindergarten "shit" incident, he said that he was just telling a friend at his table that "shit" was a bad word. (Followed with charming smile). "Well, it's inappropriate so don't say it," I replied. (Followed with stern look). But his infatuation with swearing continued. I never went as far as to wash his mouth out with soap, but I tried taking a hard line, sending him to his room for saying "shit," taking away privileges. As he got older, he tried to get away with cursing in Pig Latin. "No, still not appropriate," I'd say. "What do you get when you cross a Bull Dog with a Shih Tzu?" he'd ask. "Still not appropriate," I'd reply. We found some success by telling him the blunt meaning of certain words. When he randomly kept singing "douche, dah douche, douche, douche" over and over, my husband informed him that a douche was a "vagina cleanser," which zipped him up quick. But I guess knowing that shit means poop didn't create the same level of embarrassment or my hard line wasn't really hard enough because every once in a while the "shit" would still fly.

So I'm going with a new tactic. Recently, my son, now 9, said "shit" under his breath. He tried to defend himself by saying he knows he shouldn't say it but it was in his head and it just kind of popped out. How could I not admit to myself that I knew how he felt? I told him that in the car on the way to baseball practice he could swear as much as he wanted. He'd get a one-time pass. "Get it out of your system and then be done with it," I said. In a way, this is what I do. I take a sort of cursing break when my kids aren't around. My husband said my son filled that ride with shouts of "Shit! Shit! Shitty! Look! Do you see that shitty house?! What a shitty house!"

I thought I was being pretty clever. Creative parenting! But after they left, my 6-year-old daughter complained that I wasn't being fair and that she should be able to do this too. Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn't have announced my new tactic in front of the impressionable younger sibling, who has never spoken a bad word, has received no letters from the teacher. Yet, to be fair I let her have a two-minute cursing rant as well. "Stupid, stupid, stupid! What a stupid head!" she said.

I thought this is exactly what parenting makes me feel like sometimes, a @*!## stupid head.