Family life

My daughter's lesson in swearing

Tracy Chappell's seven-year-old has some questions about certain words on the bathroom wall.

1LittleGirl-September2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

The other day, in the middle of evening rush hour, Anna asked me out of the blue, “What’s the B-word and the A-word?”

I answered as any parent would: “Ummm… What do you mean?”

“You know, there are some words we’re not supposed to say? Bad words? One is the B-word and one is the A-word. Right?”

Stalling, I reply: “Were you talking about that at school today?”

She doesn’t beat around the bush: “Is the B-word ‘bitch’?”

I play it cool, not even letting my eyes fly open. “Yes, it is.”

“I thought so,” she said. “I saw it on the bathroom wall at school awhile ago.”

“Really?” I said. “Did you tell the teacher?”

“Oh yes, a few of us did. It became a big thing, everyone was all upset and they had it removed.”

She smiles and flits off. I know that can’t be the end of our conversation, but I let it rest as I get bedtime organized. Swearing isn’t a huge deal to lots of people — I’ve read plenty of blog posts from parents of toddlers who drop F-bombs as naturally as they pick their noses. We’re not big swearers, and neither are our families, not because of the kids, just because we’ve never really been. The swearing they have heard clearly hasn’t been noticed very much, as I’ve never heard them repeat any of it.

Read more: When kids swear >

I didn’t have to be the one to bring it up at bedtime.

“I don’t understand how ‘bitch’ can be a bad word. What does it mean?” she asks.

“It’s a very bad word some people use to describe a woman who isn’t nice,” I say, wishing I’d prepped more — I didn’t think she’d ask for a definition!

“Just a woman?” she asked.

“Pretty much.”

“So, it’s like witch? That makes sense — a witch is mean and a bitch is mean, because they rhyme?”

Oy.

“Well, it’s not an OK thing to call someone, ever, and some people just do it because they’re mad at the person, not because the person is actually not nice. It’s a way of making the person feel bad, by calling them a bad name, like ‘loser’ or ‘dumb’, but much worse.”

“Why don’t you call men bitch?”

“I don’t know. I guess that’s what the A-word is for. It stands for ass.”

“Ass,” she repeats. “That’s kind of funny. Why is it a bad word?”

“It’s another word for bum,” I tell her. She erupts into laughter. “So that’s why no one wants to be called that. No one wants to be called a bum!”

“I guess not!” she giggles. Then she says, “I know there are two S-words, too. Can I tell them to you out loud?” I tell her she can. She whispers, “’Shut up’ and ‘stupid.’ I know I should never say them, either.” I tell her she’s right, that they are words she should never say.

I’m always worried I’m going to unintentionally overreact to stuff that comes up without warning, and make her not want to ask me anything, so I’m happy at how this convo played out. But now I’m worried she’s enjoyed this little swearing lesson too much.

“This conversation is just between us, though, because I know you’re old enough to handle it [she loves it when I say that] and you know you can ask me anything. But I don’t want you going to school and telling your friends, because it’s up to them to ask their parents stuff like this, and up to their parents to talk to them. And don’t say these words to your sister. Got it?” The last thing I want is to be the mom of the kid on the playground schooling everyone on swearing.

“Of course!” she agrees. “I can’t get into heaven if I say those words!”

So happy I sent her to Catholic school.