A girlfriend recently asked me for some ideas because her child had started using bad language. She thought the soap-in-the-mouth thing was a good idea. My kid is practically Opie Taylor, so she thought I’d have suggestions. She didn’t like what I had to say.

I swear like a trucker, in most company. That’s the key, I think. I told her to tell the kid to say whatever he wants, but learn to know when and where to say it. Language is power. But more powerful is knowing when and where to use it.

It’s far easier to explain the “when and where to swear” (that rhymes, and someone should make an embroidery sampler of it), than to stop him from using bad language. It’s also a learning opportunity. Look up the words. Look up etymology; talk about why words can be insulting, and which ones are your hard line in the sand never to use. For most kids, the shine comes off the swear-apple when they realize they are allowed to do it, anyway.

Not surprisingly, she didn’t like the idea of teaching a child that it’s ever okay to use bad language. My philosophy is a little different than most moms though. I argue that if your kid is smart enough to know what the word means, then he is smart enough to know when and where to use it.

You want him to say “thank you” to grandma when grandma gives him an ugly sweater, and you expect him to understand the social complexities of why he should do this. Therefore, can’t he also understand why it’s okay for him to say “shit” when he stubs his toe in the privacy of his own bedroom, but not at church when he drops the collection plate? It’s just a word. 

It comes down to whether or not you trust both your child’s cognitive development, and your child’s judgment. Can you contain your mouth in public? If you can, why can’t you expect it of your children?

This is where I go back to the soap. You want your kid to grasp a metaphorical cleansing of invisible metaphorical dirty words from his mouth? Hang on. No, wait. A minute longer. I’m still laughing at the absurdity. You think they’ll get that, but they can’t understand that it’s okay to say “shit” at home, but not at school?

We are constantly talking about leading by example. We praise the “meanest mom in the world,” for throwing out her kids’ ice cream, and making a spectacle of both them and their humiliation; but, did she thank the DQ lady for her ice cream? If you aren’t spouting off expletives in inappropriate locations, neither will they.

I’ll be the the first to tell you that the f-word is one of my favorite words. It’s versatile and works for any occasion – in my home. Do I use it many other places? No. So I trust my child to get that message, because I trust my parenting, my example, my explanations, and most of all, my kid.

Most of parenting is what they see you do, anyway; very little seems to be based on what you say. Anyone knows this. How many times do you have to repeat yourself when you ask your kid to do something? When is the last time you gave a lecture and watched their eyes glaze over? They barely hear you. But, they certainly fucking see you!