I knew the day would come when my kid would start repeating every bad thing I said. It’s terrible, but I find some of it incredibly funny. He’s inherited my love of hating on the tourists that overrun the city. I fully expect him to start screaming “stand on the right!” by next summer, or hopefully even by the spring and cherry blossom season as I would love for him to see the blooms this year. And I think a toddler self-righteously screaming at tourists who stand on the left would be amazing.
He didn’t have a very clear parrot stage where he would repeat after me immediately, so I was unprepared for when the swearing really started about a month ago. The first clue that we had to reel in the language was actually months ago. I was very pregnant and was back carrying his very squirmy toddler self in my Tula to vacuum. I pulled my shirt down ripping it, muttered shit, and heard him repeat it. This was at a time when two-to three-word sentences were about his max, around 2o months or so. I warned my husband that this could be the end for us. Every now and then he would repeat something we said but integrated into his own flow of conversation. We didn’t mind it when he started calling poops “deuce” thanks to my husband, and even when he would announce to anyone who would listen, “mommy deuce!” it wasn’t that bad.
We were out for a walk when he threw his water on the floor at the hardware store yelling dammit. I did the only sane thing and totally ignored it. Then at home for about a week, anytime he threw something he would yell dammit. I asked him why he was saying that and he said the truth, “daddy say dammit.” Yep, you’re right on that one, especially when you’re throwing stuff.
Actually, my kid says fuck
Last week my husband mentioned that he had said fuck, and that I was getting the blame for it as I must have just said it. I left the room to change his brother’s diaper aka, definitely didn’t say anything, and when I came back he said: “fuck mommy. Mommy, daddy, FUCK!” In this moment I could have told him that no, mommy and daddy actually don’t do that anymore, or do what we did – ignore it.
I don’t believe that whether or not my child swears is a measure of my success as a parent, or my competence level to be a parent or anything like that. I also don’t really want him screaming dammit when he throws something, yelling fuck at the playground or saying shit when something breaks. It doesn’t sound classy when I do it and I don’t think a toddler using fuck, even in appropriate contexts, is that awesome either.
At this age, I’m telling myself that swears are just words and sounds. I could worry about his inability to express feelings or frustration like he’s a teenager spouting off at the mouth, but I don’t think that’s the case for him. Then again, I want it both ways in terms of his comprehension and language development. In the car he told me how his “monster truck sad because he didn’t want to go in the carwash.” I asked him why, and he told me “monster truck is afraid of the brushes.” I’m sitting in the back with him all proud of his budding emotional maturity and how in touch he is with feelings. My husband was like, do you really think he has any idea what he’s saying? I don’t know, but I would like to have just one smug moment of thinking we’re doing something right as parents before he says dammit while lobbing his food across the room.
What to do when your perfect baby drops an F-bomb
Ignoring the swearing has been pretty effective for us so far. He is at an age where he loves seeing reactions and getting attention. It’s been helpful for me to remember that negative attention, like a scolding, is still attention. Sometimes we do some gentle redirection, like when he says dammit, we say, “did you mean to say BOOM!?” and say it in a much louder, more animated, and therefore more fun way than he just said dammit. This was what we tried when ignoring it didn’t seem to curb his incredibly appropriate usage of the expletive. Since him using fuck has just started and there are so many ways to use that in appropriate context for adults that we don’t want to get into with a two year old, we aren’t trying any redirection. He said it for a few days and I haven’t heard it this week, so we may be in the clear.
In general, it’s important for me to remember that I am being shadowed by a tiny sponge who is discovering the world and how language works within that world. This week he’s saying everything with the intonation of a question and has started talking like he’s an old lady. He asked my husband to “join me in my room?” and had a long accusatory conversation with the toy car in his bed “hello car, what are you doing here in my bed?”
In the meantime, I’m really trying to curb my language for his sake. I’ve realized this is much easier to do if I am not driving with him anywhere. Today I was getting annoyed with a woman taking too long at an automated parking lot pay station, as we were leaving the pediatrician. I sat there, watching as our free hour expired while she dawdled at the gate. I said, “oh come on already!” to which my toddler said, “she’s not driving very well.” Clearly, he’s listening.