Do you censor your language around your kids?

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To start with, I think it goes without saying that nobody wants to see a four year old running around dropping the F-bomb. But there are many other unpleasant, perhaps even hurtful words out there that I don’t necessarily want my preschooler using either. Stupid, retarded, and gay spring to mind.

Censoring language around kids

To what lengths should we, as parents, go to censor our language around our children?

In all honesty, my husband and I are both prone to using a good expletive (or three) when it’s contextually appropriate. But generally speaking, we clean up our act when we’re within earshot of the kids. But as I re-discovered last summer while on holiday in the UK, there is just something about being behind the wheel of a moving vehicle that brings out the sailor in my husband: kids in the backseat or not. And he’s not alone. I bet everybody knows someone like that, or is someone like that.

Case in point

My husband, a generally mild-mannered guy who knows right from wrong, appropriate from inappropriate and who has worked with young people his entire adult life, inexplicably begins to talk like a writer for The Wire when he gets behind the wheel. And say what you will about driving in Thailand but nothing gets my loving hubby’s heart racing and sailor mouth going quite like driving in his native UK. While I find his Hulk like transformations pretty amusing, a few days into our family driving holiday I started to fear that if he didn’t tone it down, we would be regretting it come August when our eldest was set to start school. While I accept that our son is going to learn some ‘new’ words on the playground, I’d rather he be the student than the teacher, if ya know what I mean.

So, I suggested the following. I suggested to my husband that he substitute his most commonly used phrase to describe certain fellow motorists with ‘flying aardvark’. I figured that it was benign enough and I was pretty certain that my son had no clue what an aardvark was so it would be fine. The idea being that he could shout, “You flying aardvark!” at the Porsche that just overtook him from the wrong lane on the M25 doing twice the speed limit and still reap the benefits of swearing without enriching our son’s vocabulary in a negative way.

Yes. Studies show that swearing has many physical and psychological health benefits. Among other things, it eases physical pain, it lowers blood pressure, it can make us more popular in social situations and, moreover, it gives us a sense of control over unfavourable circumstances.

Problem solved, right? It seemed to be, until about two months after we’d come home. Our eldest got very angry with his daddy and, you guessed it, called him a flying aardvark.

Of course my husband and I, being the mature responsible adults that we are, bit our lips, left the room and burst out laughing. But because he didn’t get a visible rise or reaction out of us, that was the last time (to my knowledge anyway, maybe we should check the playground) that my son ever uttered those words. I think this just goes to show the power that words have and at what a young age kids pick up on this. My son no more knew what he was saying than if he’d actually uttered the F-word. All he knew was that this was something to be said when you were really really angry. And isn’t that all a swear word is in the end anyway? Just a word?

Sticks and stones

But what about all those other words? Those words that aren’t ‘swear’ words? Words like stupid, retarded, fat, ugly and gay. While scientists believe that uttering a few choice curse words in times of heightened physical or psychological states is deeply rooted in our primeval cortex[1], using derogatory or pejorative terms carry an altogether different purpose and social capital. I see the difference as being that swear words are meant to offer a certain amount of relief to the user whereas the latter are meant to inflict feelings of hurt and shame on someone else for the benefit of another. And if that is the case, I’d rather my sons turn out to be creative cursers.

And while I can’t control everything that my kids will be exposed to, the ‘aardvark’ incident reminded me once again to be mindful of what I can.

[1] The part of the brain that accounts for the urge to swear — or yelp, in the case of animals — is deep within, suggesting its primitiveness.” TIME Magazine: July 16th, 2009

Read more from Time Magazine

Photo Credit: thejbird via Compfight cc

My name is Jodie. I'm a 38 year old Canadian working and living in Bangkok, Thailand. My husband and I are both international teachers - though I'm taking this year off to be a full-time mom.

When we're not busy with other people's kids, we try our hand at raising our own very curious nearly four year old son and his 9 and half month old brother. When it comes to parenting, like most of us, I’m making a lot of it up as I go along .


  1. Emily  /  April 30, 2013, 12:11 pm Reply

    I really enjoy Jodie because she is honest and hits the nail on the head every time! I look forward to reading her articles. Very well done!

    •  /  April 30, 2013, 12:28 pm Reply

      Hi Emily, and thanks for your comment. We agree with you about Jodie, and we always look forward to her contributions!

      Expecting Expats will continue to seek out the highest quality contributors to bring you fresh and relevant content every week.

  2. Kelli  /  April 30, 2013, 6:14 pm Reply

    And I totally agree. There are so many hurtful words that can be said that I would rather they didn’t use. I also feel that parents should be more careful about gossiping and trash-talking other kids or adults in front of their kids. That teaches behaviour not just bad words (does that make sense?)

  3. Jodie  /  May 2, 2013, 3:47 pm Reply

    Thank you for your comment Kelli. That makes perfect sense to me.

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