A few weeks ago the Modern Family Episode “Little Bo Bleep” brought up the ever common experience of kids swearing. While, I wasn’t impressed with the “realness” of Lily’s swearing escapade it did provide an excellent viewpoint of the options that parents tend to take when their child swears. Cam found the swearing uncontrollably funny and Mitchell, true to character, found it inappropriate and vowed to teach Lily that it was bad to say that word. The lesson in the end is that children will swear, likely at inappropriate times, especially if they are as old as Lily is realize that using this word results in attention and laughter from others.
OK great. Don’t laugh. Lesson learned. We can move on to the next subject. Yeah we all get that you aren’t supposed to laugh, but trust me, when a kid swears and it comes completely out of the blue, it will take more will power than most parents have NOT to laugh. With a Ph.D. in child development, years working in a preschool, and decades babysitting children, most times when I hear a child swear, I have to either leave the room or shove a dish towel in my mouth to contain the laughter. Literally just this morning I had to bury my face in a couch cushion, when out of nowhere, a friend’s 2-year-old daughter said, “No, that’s not a *BLEEPing* doll.”
To me, Modern Family failed in the realness factor with the arbitrary use of the swear word. Most kids, actually don’t say these words completely out of the blue or without any sort of context, unless they are older and already have picked up on the fact that it is a bad word and will get some sort of reaction. Language learning occurs through hearing adult speech and through repetition. As children get older they begin to copy the sounds they have heard over the years. First it’s things like: “momma” “dadda” “doggie” “no”. Then as they get older they begin putting two and three word phrases together “more please” “that’s mine” “doggie running.” It can be around this stage when your kid might drop a swear word in a sentence they have heard before. As children begin using full-sentences you may start to hear swear words used in an appropriate but novel context rather than a direct imitation. We are impressed when our children hear us saying something like, “wow this dinner is delicious” and then on their own transfer it to a new context “wow, mommy, this ice cream is delicious”. Great! the word delicious was learned and is now being used in novel ways by our children. Unfortunately for us, bad words are learned in the exact same way.
A good friend of mine (with a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology- so don’t worry it happens to all of us!) has a great story of when her 2-year-old went to the store with his father. The father was in hurry and looking all over for diapers and the kid said, “Dad, where are the *Bleeping* diapers”. The context was correct (frustration and stressed). Placement and use of the word was correct in the sentence. Apparently the word was successfully learned.
So, word (sometimes bad word) learning happens and what’s amazing is how quickly and easily young children pick up on language. Anyone else have a good “bad word” story they want to share to spice up our Fridays?