You are here

Is two too young for a swear jar?

Erin Zammett Ruddy

I am not worried about the real four-letter words here. To me, a two year old who drops an F bomb once in a blue moon is kind of funny. But a two year old who says, “Shut up you idiot” on a daily basis is an epic parenting fail. Welcome to life with Nora.


I curse in front of my kids sometimes. Not on purpose, but it slips out. Nick is 10 times worse than me. So both of our kids have heard the F word and the S word and the B word and a few combos I’m too ashamed to share here. But they know those are wildly inappropriate words so they really don’t repeat them. But there are other words that are not four-letters per se, that they say all the time. And if you ask me these words are much, much worse than F and S and SOB.


Here are the current top offenders in my house:


Hate. (Nora looked at Nick yesterday morning and said, “I don’t like you, Dad. I hate you.”—He did not take that well.)


Idiot. Awful. Beyond. So frustrating. But I know Nick and I—and many people in my family—have said, “Oh, I’m such an idiot!” when doing something, well, idiotic, so I guess we’re to blame. Ugh, I’m such an idiot!


Stupid. (Fortunately I haven’t heard either of the kids call someone stupid but they call things stupid all the time.)


Blah blah blah. (Alex says this when I ask him about his day and it drives me nuts: “We played on the playground and then we had snack and blah, blah blah, mom.”)


Boring. (Any time I ask Alex to do something he doesn’t want to do he responds with “That’s boring”—even if it doesn’t quite make sense:

Me: “Alex, eat your broccoli.”

Alex: “That’s boring, mom.”


Weirdo. (No clue where they picked this one up but Alex called my dad this one too many times recently and got sent home in big trouble. So I’m pretty sure he’ll never say it again.)


Oh my God. (We work on goodness, gracious, golly but it’s an uphill battle. The other day Alex said “Oh My Gah”—and then he caught himself and tried to tell me it was OK to say “Oh My Gah.” Nora is way worse with this than Alex—and she refuses my corrections. But here’s the thing: Nick and I never say “Oh my God.” We used to but now that we have kids, it’s one of those things—like shut up—that we feel really strongly about.


Shut up. (They only say this to each other—never to adults, thank goodness—but Nora has taken it to a new level. My mom had her in the car with Alex and Gregory the other day and I guess the boys were being loud so she kept saying “shut up.” My mom told her that wasn’t nice and she should just ask them to be quiet. So Nora said, “Be quiet you idiots!” Of course my mom had to stifle her laughter and when she told me the story I laughed, too. But it’s not really funny. At all.)


As you can see, there’s an epidemic of foul-mouthery going on in my house. And I feel like while some of this is clearly my fault (Nora’s catchphrase “Shut up you idiot” is a direct quote from Rio, which is otherwise a really cute movie), a lot of it is out of my control. Alex picks stuff up at school (duh, for example, and I think boring) and some of it comes from their big, cool cousin and some from the grandfathers, who they idolize. They don't watch a ton of movies or TV, but clearly it's having an impact—and I should stick with good ol' Diego and Dora when I need a break. Particularly for Nora. But TV is hardly the only problem. There are plenty of books where these words are featured, too. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good Very Bad Day is full of the word hate (which I always replace with don’t like) and the Rosemary Wells book Naughty Nora has this refrain: “Nora, Why are you so dumb?” Seriously? Fortunately I was on my toes the first time I read it to her so I swapped in glum. Which makes no sense at all.


Regardless of who or what is to blame, these words have crept into my kids’ vocabulary and I need to get them out—fast. It’s embarrassing when we’re out with other people and I hear Alex say stupid or Nora say hate. I really don’t want to have kids with such bad mouths.The problem: I’m pretty good at getting my kids to say certain things (hello, please, thank you, etc), but getting them not to is another story. Alex is definitely better and will catch himself if he says one of these words but Nora will do it on purpose. Alex knows they’re not nice words and gets it and truly responds. Nora also knows they’re bad words but says them anyway. Says them because. That's because Nora enjoys negative attention, which makes it really hard to discipline her. And she’s incredibly smart and savvy and able to play me like a fiddle. This morning, for example, while the kids were eating breakfast Alex said one of the banned words and I said, “Al, c’mon.” He said he was sorry and we moved on. But then Nora chimes in with this: “What did you say Ali? Did you say foopid? Did you say hate? Did you say shut up you idiot? Did you say Oh my God?” And while I was brushing her teeth she asked me if she could sing "you idiot." She looked at me and got all excited and started nodding her head and whispered, “I’ll only sing it Mommy, Ok?” This kid continues to baffle me. On Saturday she and I were running a few errands and she was being great and we were having fun so as I lifted her out of the grocery cart, I squeezed her and said “Who’s the best little girl in the whole world?” Her response: “Not meeeeeeeee!”


What words do your kids say that drive you crazy? How do you monitor what words they learn and how do you teach them not to say things they already say? Is there a two-year-old version of a swear jar?