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Rev. Debra Haffner Headshot

An Open Letter to Cam and Mitchell

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Dear Cam and Mitchell:

Can we talk?

I know you can't agree on what to do about Lily's swearing, but after she used the "F" word in your house and at the wedding, it really is time.

First let me assure that this is a very common problem. Lily is a little young to be using it, but by five or six, almost every child is going to surprise their parents with the "S," "D," or even the "F" word that they overheard on the playground, bus, or even from you.

You've been given what I call in my book, From Diapers to Dating, a "teachable moment." No, I don't want you to talk to her about sexual intercourse -- not just yet. But, this is an opportunity to talk to her about words that aren't "nice" and how to react when having strong feelings.

If she's heard these words in your home, make an effort to stop using them. Some people find it helpful to fine themselves $5 every time they swear in front of their kids to break themselves of the habit.

Think about what messages you want Lily to learn about this type of language. Regardless of what you personally think about adults using these words, you need to teach her that other people might get very upset if they hear children using them. I recommend teaching children that certain words evoke very strong reactions and are not "nice." I include "shut up" and "I hate you" on that list. I suggest you ask her not to use those words, and tell her you won't use them either.

Cam, Mitchell is right -- laughing at Lily just tells her you think it's cute and she'll continue. But, Mitchell, screaming or punishing her is just going to assure she won't do it around you.

You can also use this as an opportunity to talk with Lily about her feelings. When children swear because they are angry, frightened, or surprised, and try to label the feeling. "You must be feeling pretty angry that you dropped your milk, and have to help me clean it up. What other words can you use when you are mad that aren't swear words?" I knew a family that adopted "tartar sauce" as the word they would all use in place of "not nice" words. Cam and Mitchell, how about adopting that?

Cam and Mitchell, I hope we can count on you for lots of teachable moments as Lily grows up. It won't be long now that she asks you, "Where do babies come from" or what that "F" word really means. Try to practice in advance how you will handle them. Can I send you a copy of my book?

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