How to deal with a cussing child?
May 19, 2004 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Cussing kids. My sweet little baby girl (8) cut loose with an unbelievable string of profanity when she got off the school bus today. I was actually embarrassed, and believe me, that takes a lot. I have no idea where it came from. We don't speak like that and her peer group consists of exactly one child (very small school). I didn't even know she knew these words. Besides grounding her forever (done) and I have no idea how to best to address this.
posted by cedar to Human Relations (47 answers total)
Whatever you do, don't tell her she's in big fucking trouble.

Maybe ask her where she heard it?
posted by trondant at 12:21 PM on May 19, 2004

You didn't say exactly what she said, but when my son was around the same age he got off the school bus and let fly with a particularly obnoxious word. I calmly asked him if he knew what it meant. He said no. I proceeded to tell him-in an age-appropriate way. The look on his face was priceless.

Depending on what was said exactly she may be similarly horrified to know exactly what she just said.
posted by konolia at 12:28 PM on May 19, 2004

Response by poster: Trondant, that was my first question. Remember, this is an eight year old, the stock answer is, "I dunno."

Why would you say such a thing? "I dunno."

In case your curious (I didn't want to put to put it on the front page) she referred to her teacher as a "motherfucking piece of cocksucking cunt shit." Yeah, I know the syntax is off, but she *is* only eight. This upset me a great deal. I don't know if you have kids but believe me, this isn't a string of adjectives any parent looks forward to hearing.
posted by cedar at 12:29 PM on May 19, 2004

If she got off a 'school bus' as you say, my guess is her peer group consists of more than one child. Contact only has to be casual for these kinds of things.

I dont know if this helps: As children my brother and I were exposed to all sorts of profanity from our parents. Whenever we said anything bad, they'd actually laugh and say 'you shouldnt say that' and then move on. Getting no good reaction from our parents, both my brother and I used (and still use) little to no profanity in our speech.

My cousins on the other hand were severely punished by their strict parents whenever they said so much as 'fuck' When my brother and I played with them (we were all around 8) they would curse obscenely with us, really horrible profanities, and giggle. They seemed to obviously derive great pleasure from this sense of transgression they got. My brother and I just shrugged it off - we found it boring.
posted by vacapinta at 12:35 PM on May 19, 2004

Wow. This doesn't strike me as ordinary childhood cussing. I think you may need to do some serious investigative work to find out where she picked up this, er, phrase. Talk to her teacher, for starters, and perhaps the parents of other children at school. Also, are there other places she goes without her parents? This is not so much to place blame but to find out what she's being exposed to and where. Once you learn how she picked up this stuff, what to do about it may become more clear.
posted by JanetLand at 12:35 PM on May 19, 2004

Well, now she knows the words, so finding out where she heard them won't help anything. My guess is this is where she learned them: the world.

Grounding her seems like an odd solution to me. At best, it will make her learn to hide the words from YOU (so as not to get punished). Is that all you want?

I think before you "deal" with your child, you should do some serious self-analysis. Ask yourself why you are so bothered by the cursing. Is it a believe that cursewords are somehow intrinsically bad or evil? Is it the hateful feeling behind the words (would it have been just as bad if she'd said, "I hate my teacher?") Are curses only bad when they are uttered by a child? Are you worried about what the neighbors will think?

It's important that you think about this, because the only workable/humane way of dealing with this is to talk to your child about it. And before you talk to her, you should be clear within your self.

If you tell her not to use those words and she says, "why?" You should be able to (calmly) explain your reasoning to her. "Because they are bad," isn't good enough. WHY are they bad? Why is it okay for grownups to say them (or is it?).

I wouldn't want my child cursing in public, because it might offend some people. Just like some people would be offended if my child stuck gum on a chair. So THAT'S what I would explain to a child. I would talk about what the words mean, and I would say, "it's okay if you use those words in your own room, when you're alone, but you'll make people upset if you use them in public."

You may not like my "it's okay in your own room" philosophy, but children will do what they want in their heads anyway, so why totally censor them. You'll just create a rift between you and them.

I also don't see a problem with you saying, "I don't like those words." Or "those words hurt my feelings." By saying that, you are owning the problem -- which is different from saying, "those are BAD words!"
posted by grumblebee at 12:41 PM on May 19, 2004

Response by poster: vacapinta:"If she got off a 'school bus' as you say, my guess is her peer group consists of more than one child...

No. I failed to make myself clear. My children go to a school with a total of six students (three are mine). This bus, it has only my children on it. The other three kids in the school are products of psycho Christian fundamentalist parents.

I live in a *very* rural area.

JanetLand: That's the thing. She really doesn't go anywhere, we lead a very simple life.
posted by cedar at 12:42 PM on May 19, 2004

I am a public school teacher: Grain of salt, and welcome to the world of influence beyond your control! That being said...

Good advice:"whenever we said anything bad, they'd actually laugh and say 'you shouldnt say that' and then move on. Getting no good reaction from our parents, both my brother and I used (and still use) little to no profanity in our speech."

BAD ADVICE: "... think you may need to do some serious investigative work to find out where she picked up this, er, phrase. Talk to her teacher, for starters, and perhaps the parents of other children at school."

Nutshell: Give a kid the tools to make the parents have to enter into a "big deal", and they will use those tools. Give a kid something to rebel against, and they will do so. Really, say something like , " We don't talk like that in OUR family, ok?". Then, drop it.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 12:43 PM on May 19, 2004 [1 favorite]

"I dont know if this helps: As children my brother and I were exposed to all sorts of profanity from our parents. Whenever we said anything bad, they'd actually laugh and say 'you shouldnt say that' and then move on. Getting no good reaction from our parents, both my brother and I used (and still use) little to no profanity in our speech."

I totally agree with this. When I was little, my parents always served me a little wine at the table when they were drinking wine. They never gave me a lot, and they never made a big deal out of it.

As a teenager, when all of my friends started "experimenting" with alcohol, I was never interested. It didn't seem like a big deal to me. It wasn't a form of rebellion to me.

On the other hand, my dad had a huge cow about busy streets. He was totally freaked out that I might get run over by a car, and he used to lecture me about looking both ways every time I left the house.

To this day, I can't cross a street without fear, and I'm constantly almost getting run over because I tend to freak out when a car comes towards me, and I run back and forth without knowing what to do -- or I freeze in the middle of the street, like a deer in headlights.
posted by grumblebee at 12:46 PM on May 19, 2004

is it possible that she saw some tv/heard some music she shouldn't have?
posted by jerseygirl at 12:50 PM on May 19, 2004

as an ex-teacher, and parent of young kids, I think that what grumblebee says has to be the single best advice I've seen on non-tech AskMe.
posted by Pericles at 12:50 PM on May 19, 2004

Response by poster: jerseygirl: "is it possible that she saw some tv/heard some music she shouldn't have?"

Possibly, but not likely. The kids all listen to rap, but I make an effort to weed out the most misogynist. Television isn't a concern -- no cable here and we rent movies or download torrents.

grumblebee: "Grounding her seems like an odd solution to me. At best, it will make her learn to hide the words from YOU (so as not to get punished). Is that all you want?

Yeah, pretty much. I'm one of those parents who doesn't feel compelled to know everything that goes through my kids heads. Grounding her is a no-brainer, it's inappropriate behavior and is worthy of punishment.

BrodieShadeTree: Thank you. I may be making a mountain out of a molehill, but I was truly speechless. I would have been astounded to hear that sentence from a drinking buddy, from my little girl it was inconcievable.
posted by cedar at 1:00 PM on May 19, 2004

Grounding her is a no-brainer, it's inappropriate behavior and is worthy of punishment.

Did she know it was inappropriate?

I had cousins who used to purposely coach their little sister to curse. (They thought it was funny.) Obviously somebody taught it to her.
posted by callmejay at 1:05 PM on May 19, 2004 [1 favorite]

As was said above, it really doesn't matter, except as a matter of curiosity, where she got those words (or that particular string of words). She's almost certainly parroting something she heard somewhere, but that's how we learn language of any sort. I don't care how rural you are, you're going to hear those words at some point as a kid.

When I talk to my kids about swear words, I take care not to "shy away" from using the words in my conversation with them. I almost overdo it: "Honey, the word fuck is a word that offends a lot of people. Saying "fuck" is like burping or sticking your tongue out, it's just rude." My goal is to remove the magic power of the word, make it much less enticing and boring. Because it's the magic power -- the power to make Mom panic and write in to a community website for advice, for instance -- that's so attractive about the fucking words.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:06 PM on May 19, 2004

Yeah, pretty much. I'm one of those parents who doesn't feel compelled to know everything that goes through my kids heads. Grounding her is a no-brainer, it's inappropriate behavior and is worthy of punishment.

I understand and agree that it's not necessary (in fact, it's inappropriate) to know be your child's thought police.

And I'm not against punishment. But I don't think punishment should EVER be a "no-brainer." It's always worth thinking about, because it sends a message.

One thing your punishment was likely to have done is to give your child some good rebellion-fodder. So look forward to more cursing when she's a teenager.

Now, if you've told her you don't like to hear cursing -- and if you've warned her that if she DOES curse in front of you, she'll be punished, then it's appropriate than you DO punish her when she curses.

But from your description of events, it sounds like this is totally new behavior. Have you EVER discussed cursing with her before?

If not, how is she supposed to know it's "wrong"? Perhaps the first offense should subject her to a warning, rather than a grounding.

If she KNEW it would offend you, then the situation is more interesting. The cursing seems less important than the fact that she purposefully wants to offend her parent. This seems worth (calmly) discussing.

Getting back to your seemingly good practice of letting your child behave as she likes in private, I am a little bit frightened. On the one hand, it sounds like you're "letting her have her own space." On the other hand, it sounds like you're creating a wall. Is it okay for your child to talk to you about stuff? What happens when she starts dating? Will she feel comfortable coming to you for advice? Or will she fear that at the first mention of anything "inappropriate" you'll fly off the handle and punish her?
posted by grumblebee at 1:15 PM on May 19, 2004

I have to agree with vacapinta, my parents would curse every now and then, and if they ever caught me doing it, they'd just say "don't talk like that, please" and drop it. I never really cursed much until my late teens, and then it was a way of getting people to listen to me.

I've cut back somewhat since, so much that the phrase "motherfucking piece of cocksucking cunt shit" is almost shocking to me, especially if an 8 year old said it. I used to talk like a sailor in college, but even I wouldn't create a string of explicatives that long.

Just tell her not to ever say anything like that again, and use phrasing you would to denote inappropriate behavior -- how do you keep her from doing embarrasing things? Say the same thing about this language.
posted by mathowie at 1:17 PM on May 19, 2004

That string of expletives seems very odd for an 8 year old.

I remember calling a friend a "motherfucker" in first grade within earshot of our teacher. I claimed ignorance of its meaning - which was true - but I knew full well that it was the worst insult I could hurl at someone.

I learned it in kindergarten from a friend who'd heard his father say it. It's odd, but I remember it all quite vividly.

Anyway, like me, I suspect she got it through an adult - perhaps someone at her school - "cocksucking cunt shit" represents swearing of a higher order. Not the sort of things that young children could pick up from each other, you know?
posted by aladfar at 1:21 PM on May 19, 2004

The sentence is really too poetic for an 8 year old to have strung together by herself. I vote along the lines of being taught it from somewhere and really having no idea what the words are or how nasty it sounds. If she knew those were cusswords, she probably wouldn't have said them in front of you, right?
I would go with the re-education punishment instead of grounding. Like have her make a list of 25 sentences that she could have used instead to make her point without being ignorant. At 8 that should fill about 2 or 3 hours of straight work, and it may actually stick with her should she hear other creative phrases later.
posted by dness2 at 1:25 PM on May 19, 2004

Well, I don't know if I would recommend it or not, but soap does work, provided you do it the minute the child swears. My first F-word at age 4 or 5 got me a mouth full of Ivory (very unpleasant, completely safe, definitely seemed to connect the punishment and the action), and it was at least 15 years before I could bring myself to try again, whether my parents were around or not. It seems harsh to me now, but I think we had been warned that it would happen and I had known it was a bad word (even though I didn't know what it meant ) and was saying it to get my mother's goat.
posted by jb at 1:34 PM on May 19, 2004

soap does work, provided you do it the minute the child swears.

If you wouldn't do it to an Iraqi detainee, don't do it to your children.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:51 PM on May 19, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: jb: I can't. I thought about it.

I'm not necessarily against corporal punishment but just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'll spank a kid or use force if it's something that requires immediate and forceful attention to preserve their safety. Pull free of my hand and run into traffic and your getting whacked. However, I cannot justify a physical reaction to a verbal transgression that doesn't endanger anyone.

It's one of those things my parents did to me that I swore I would never do to my children, I've backed off on most of that, but not this one.
posted by cedar at 1:57 PM on May 19, 2004

I distinctly remember letting loose with the "t*t" word upon seeing a buxom woman walk out of a local convenience store (she was out of earshot). My mom stopped for a second, asked if I knew what that word really meant, and upon saying no she responded, "That is an inappropriate word to use and it's insulting to that woman. Please don't use it again," and let the matter drop. I'm certain she was horrified (I am female, so it's kind of a weird situation I think) and it did indeed teach me. I knew it was a crass word for breasts, but I didn't realize how offensive it could be. Didn't really say it after that.

My $0.02
posted by absquatulate at 1:59 PM on May 19, 2004

Soap? I happen to think it's a really dodgy practice to force anything into a child's mouth. Serious invasion of an orifice. (That also goes for making a child captive at table until she/he has eaten up her/his food.)
posted by suleikacasilda at 2:02 PM on May 19, 2004

Force her to eat cilantro. Same effect.
posted by smackfu at 2:33 PM on May 19, 2004

When this first came up, around 6 or 7, I told my daughter that some words were not used in polite conversation (she already knows that being polite is important), and that they are particularly inappropriate for children. I have yet to hear anything worse than gosh or drat or bother come out of her mouth.

I am agin severe punishment in this case, if only because coming on strong for something they said doesn't leave a lot of room for when they DO something awful.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:08 PM on May 19, 2004

Alot of people have commented on various parenting styles, but I haven't yet seen you answer the very good question raised above, cedar:

Why do you want to correct your child?

To me, that is the critical issue in determining how you go forward. Do you find that form of speech intrinsically offensive, and not wish for her to ever talk like that? Would you be OK hearing it if you knew that it was kept strictly in the family? Or are you just concerned about what other adults around her would think?

I must admit to being a bit of a connoseiur of creative profanity, and that phrase does sound a bit too advanced to have been assembled on the spot -- it's most likely her parroting something she's heard elsewhere, in which case she likely doesn't have a firm understanding of what most of those words mean, aside from that they express strong emotion. Unless you have good reason to think that she was specifically trying to be offensive, I'd suggest treating this more as nose-picking than shin-kicking.

That being said, were it my child, I would explain to her (in an age-appropriate way) what the words mean, and that to alot of people they would be very, very offensive. Then I'd explain that if she doesn't want to upset people and be thought poorly of, she should not speak words like that around other people -- she's free to talk that way to me (although every time I'd hear it, I'd make sure to ask if she felt it was appropriate), but I would be very upset if she did it around other people.

But I admit that I have an extremely liberal view of profanity, and would not be offended by my child cursing in front of me if I felt it was not highly inappropriate. Those who are more offended by those dirty, filthy words probably would be a bit less lenient about in-family swearing.
posted by jammer at 3:12 PM on May 19, 2004

I agree with vacapinta. I have friends who have never disciplined their kids for swearing—they take a more relaxed approach towards it. When the kids were much younger they would occasionally parrot swear words but I never hear them curse now. In fact, it's at the point where the kids sometimes remind their parents (ahem, and their parent's friends) that swear words are not polite.
posted by btwillig at 3:17 PM on May 19, 2004

Response by poster: jammer: "Why do you want to correct your child?"

Isn't that kind of obvious?

There are a slew of reasons, all of which have been mentioned above; I find it personally offensive, I worry that others overhearing it will be offended, I am concerned about the emotions that drive a child to speak in such a way... to sum it up, it's just fucking wrong.

And let there be no doubt, she knew exactly what she was saying. She has two older brothers and my partner and I have always been open to questions concerning 'sucking', fucking' and the various names we call our body parts. This is not a naive child. She knew what she was saying.

I am not concerned about profanity, this isn't about bad words. I like bad words, but not out of an eight year old. It lacks context, and that is what concerns me. If it was said in my hearing (it wasn't, I just happened to be lurking about) I could chalk it up to a child demanding attention. If it was said in direct reaction to a specific event, I would write it off as anger. Unfortunately, it was neither. Hence my confusion.
posted by cedar at 3:47 PM on May 19, 2004

cedar, what's wrong with treating this like you'd treat a child who picks their nose? Explain why it's rude and frowned upon, ask her to stop, and move on. It seems the best way to remedy the situation without it being a big deal or becoming a way to rebel against you.
posted by mathowie at 3:51 PM on May 19, 2004

mountain, molehill.
posted by callmejay at 4:00 PM on May 19, 2004

Response by poster: Matt: She called her teacher, a lovely young lady who has shown us nothing but kindness, a cocksucking cunt. This infuriates me, the fact that she would treat an adult who has been an asset to our lives with such total disrespect indicates to me that I have failed in some vague way, it's always vague when it comes to parenting, to instill a few basic values. I don't want a little puppet girl afraid to speak her mind, but I also don't want a little bitch saying terrible things about people who only have her best interests at heart.

I have a lot to think about, not the least of which is my reaction (over-reaction?) to what is probably a simple issue.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to help a clueless single father muddle his way through another day.
posted by cedar at 4:13 PM on May 19, 2004

Cedar, a couple of more thoughts:

Kids relationships to their teachers in school are largely unknowable by their parents. I say this as a teacher and as someone who remembers what it was like to be in school at that age.

To you, the teacher is kind and sweet. That's YOUR relationship with the teacher. I'm not suggesting that the teacher is secretly an ogre. I'm just saying that your child has her own relationship (separate from yours) with the teacher. You can't dictate how your child feels about another person.

And sure, it's possible that the teacher isn't as nice (behind the closed doors of the classroom) as she is when you see her. Or maybe she really is nice all the time, but your child doesn't see her that way (for some obscure reason dictated by your child's mental landscape).

Now, I'm not suggesting that this makes it okay for her to be mean to her teacher, though if she really has negative feelings about the teacher, it IS important that she express them (to you or to someone else she trusts). It's NOT important that the feelings be based in reality. The teacher might be kind. Still, it's okay for your child to have negative feelings towards her.

I taught kids your child's age for many years, and I was often told that I was a fun, kind and understanding teacher. But I was always aware that there's are two sides to school. On the one hand it CAN be a place for kids to play and grow and learn -- but since we force kids to go to school, it is also a jail. That brings up all sorts of complicated feelings, and a good teacher understands that.

When I was teaching kids full time, I got a lot of love from them. I was showered with hugs, but I was also occasionally called names. Sometimes really mean names. Sometimes the kids who called me these mean names were giving me hugs the next day. That all part of teaching and I bet your kid's teacher is used to it.

Meanwhile, there's a VERY important issue here that we're all (me included) skirting around. We're all talking about how serious or not-serious it is for a young child to curse.

What's more important is that you feel your child has acted in an unusual way. She/he doesn't normally curse. This is worth noting.

I would be just as concerned if I had a generally gentle child who suddenly and violently destroyed a sand castle.

Cursing is not important. Sand castles are not important. Sudden mood changes ARE important.

And it might mean nothing. It might just be part of your child leaning and growing and experimenting with new words and ideas.

But you should find out.

You should do this by talking to your child. And you must talk as a friend, not a punisher. Did something bad happen in school that day (maybe not even involving the teacher)? If so, don't you want to know about it? Maybe it's something you can help with.

Maybe it's something you can't solve in a fix-it kind of way. Maybe your child just needs some comfort and love.

I'm sorry if I came across as patronizing. Many of us liberal-types here were brought up to think concerns about cursing are kind of silly. But I recognize that parenting is hard. And single-parenting is especially hard.

It's not such a big deal that you grounded your kid. She/he now knows how you feel about swearing, so now you've dealt with your feelings. I recommend that now you deal with your child's feelings.

I hope it goes well!
posted by grumblebee at 4:36 PM on May 19, 2004

Yo cedar, thank you for your last comment, which supplies a lot of missing context.

Although as I said above, my daughter hasn't let forth this kind of thing, I have noticed that she can be quite oblivious to the impact of what she says. Eg, she can make insulting personal remarks simply because she does not know that observing certain things in public is rude. I choose to believe that this is not because I am a failure as a parent, but because she is eight. My role is catch these lapses in courtesy when they happen and correct them, but I don't beat myself up when the 8-year-old equivalent of "you sweat much for a fat lady" slips out.

It would not surprise me at all if your kid knows well that what she said is rude, but has no idea just how rude. It sounds as though you've conveyed the consequences very firmly. My suggestion though is that you need to think about whether she intended all the hurt and insult that an adult would have.

Believe me, I ponder a lot on just how children are supposed to learn these things. There are a lot of social rules on what you can and can't say that I think in the end children can only learn by transgressing them and observing the consequences, simply because it's too hard for us as parents to codify and articulate them in all their complexity.

(Why can some adults say these things with apparent impunity? Are they bad people? Why do you swear, Dad, when you drop a red hot brick on your foot? ...)

Remember that most people turn out all right no matter what. Cut yourself some slack. There will be bigger issues to come.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:37 PM on May 19, 2004

grumblebee, it sticks out a mile that you are a great teacher.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:39 PM on May 19, 2004

Thanks, Joe's Spleen. You bring up an interesting question about how we learn to become socialized. I don't think it's mostly from our parents. It's mostly from our peers. When we're rude (within the social norms of our peer group), our peers let us know in no uncertain terms!

The problem lies in my parenthetical phrase, above. In MY social group, it might be okay for me to say "shut up," but that might not be okay in my dad's social context.

I remember my grandmother once gave me a big lecture because she heard me ask a friend if I could play with his toy, but I didn't say "please." But amongst my playmates, saying please all the time was considered overly formal.
posted by grumblebee at 4:48 PM on May 19, 2004

This reminds me of an incident back when I was a kid. Some neighborhood punk flicked me off thinking it was funny and I started to do it back not knowing what it is. My two older brothers said, "Don't do that in front of mom and dad!" I called BS on them and ran to mom. I proceeded to flick her off asking, "Am I allowed to do this?"
Mom [clear and calm voice with no hint of anger] "Now, honey, no run along."
I didn't think anything of it and was like, "oh, ok."
Moral of the story as some others referred to? Kids rend to rebel against something if given something to rebel against. I had no reason to rebel with flicking my mom off because she gave no hint that it disturbed her.
posted by jmd82 at 5:46 PM on May 19, 2004

she referred to her teacher as a "motherfucking piece of cocksucking cunt shit."

Whoa! Things have really moved on since I was a kid. I heard some recordings of me and a friend on reel-to-reel tape when I was about 12 and my friend judiciously used the F word, and I thought that was bad enough :-)

I think swearing is attached to personality and attitude. As a kid I knew all the swear words, but I didn't use them because my parents reinforced respect into me. Of course, when they first learn the words, they're gunna slip out ;-)

IMHO, telling the child to 'never use those words again' is very bad advice. Why? Because I can remember what it was like to be a child, and I know that, cocky as I was, I could read through that demand as being total BS. What would more effective (if you're not into the smacking method) is explaining what swearing is to the child, why society considers it bad, and demanding that your child does not swear around you or people they respect as it's a sign of contempt and disrespect and they will hurt your feelings (not far from emotional blackmail, but of the good kind). From then on, if the child swears, don't throw a hissy fit, but be genuinely disappointed and I bet the child will apologize.

Using emotion to resolve issues makes sense to me, since it works for children and adults.. whereas 'grounding' or smacking ONLY works with children and reinforces a useless 'I only won't swear because I want to go and play with my friends' attitude. Being genuinely disappointed with a swearing child will make it realize how hurtful its actions can be, and it should be able to reinforce its own tongue in future. Well.. it worked for me.
posted by wackybrit at 6:41 PM on May 19, 2004

Simple solution: Get some of those joke candies that look like, y'know, normal boiled sweets, but actually taste like garlic, or soap, or whatever.

Give her one straight away, then say, 'You know, you shouldn't talk the way you did about your teacher the other day.'

If you hear her do it again, sprinkle some tobasco in her Big Mac.

Then, I dunno, vinegar in her cola? Salt on a delicious ice cream sundae!
posted by armoured-ant at 6:55 PM on May 19, 2004

I got the soap treatment when I was pretty young, and I curse like a truck driver now. ;) Well, not really, but it's become pretty much standard when I'm upset or angry. Somehow those words vent frustration, pain and anger like nothing else.

However, I know that there's a time and place for casual conversation, and a time and place where formality and respect are expected. I use those words appropriately. I didn't learn this from my parents or any other disciplinarian, I learned it from the reactions of my peers. Of course I had friends, acquaintences, classmates and coworkers who also had potty mouths, but when you see the distasteful or offended reaction of someone who doesn't use that language freely, it makes you question why you're using it, and causes you to think before you blurt out expletives for no reason. The key is learning to judge your audience and modify your language appropriately. These days I find that more often than not, cursing doesn't make its way into the conversation.
posted by MsVader at 7:12 PM on May 19, 2004

What grumblebee said. Go grumblebee!

How do you ground an eight year-old girl? By not letting her go to her friends' birthday parties?
posted by bingo at 9:32 PM on May 19, 2004

cedar: This is not a naive child. She knew what she was saying ... She called her teacher, a lovely young lady who has shown us nothing but kindness, a cocksucking cunt.

grumblebee: ... What's more important is that you feel your child has acted in an unusual way.

My spidey-sense is tingling on this one, too. I wouldn't disregard the swearing, but it sounds like something bigger might be going on. Since you've already dealt with the offending words, it might be worth trying to find out if there's a bigger issue at hand.

Instead of interrogating her (which usually makes kids clam up), you might try helping her work through her emotions. Some ideas (pause after each phrase to let her interject):
"Sounds like you're really mad at your teacher"
"Things can get intense toward the end of the year"
"It can be so frustrating when things aren't going your way"

This might help her start talking about what's really bugging her. If you haven't already read it, try "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk". It helps with more than just parent-child communication issues, and the cheesy illustrations are actually kind of quaint. This book has a permanent place on my nightstand.

Oh, and congratulations, Dad! She obviously trusts you a lot to speak so freely around you. It doesn't feel like a privelege right now, I know. She probably knew you wouldn't approve, but said all that stuff in such a coarse manner for a reason. Maybe she really wants to talk with you about something. There are plenty of dads who will probably never gain that level of trust from their kids.
posted by whatnot at 10:03 PM on May 19, 2004

When I was in pre-school, two older kids got me to say something.. er.. very rude to a teacher. I had no idea what I was saying -- I just knew that the big kids thought it was hilarious, so surely the teacher would find it similarly hilarious. Needless to say, my parents were called and I got in a lot of trouble, but I had no idea why exactly because everybody involved was too embarrassed to explain.

And wow. I didn't encounter language that strong until I started reading Stephen King.
posted by Hypharse at 10:03 PM on May 19, 2004

I guess the point of that dumb anecdote is to illustrate that she could have just been parroting something the big kids taught her. She might have even thought you'd be impressed or amused. You said she's pretty savvy about anatomical parts and the like, but does she grasp the.. I don't know how to put it.. the connotations? The way adults view such expressions? Kids are smart, smarter than they get credit for, but they obviously perceive the world in a way that is incomprehensible to an adult, and vice versa.
posted by Hypharse at 10:15 PM on May 19, 2004

Is the bed bouncing up and down? Is your kid's head turning around 360 degrees? Have you considered bringing in a priest?

I find it pretty hard to believe that a little kid really knows what those words mean, but I don't have kids, so I'm not really in a position to know or offer good advice -- you know, short of exorcism
posted by willnot at 10:48 PM on May 19, 2004

just to back up grumblebee: Just because a teacher is good by your standards, doesn't mean she's good by your daughter's standards. I had a teacher in 2nd grade (so, about the same age) who was, in retrospect, a pretty good teacher, but I hated her. Because we had part of the day where we were supposed to read either by our selves or in small groups (like 2-3 kids) and she told me I wasn't supposed to read with my friend Holly, because we were at different reading levels. This infuriated me and I never forgave her for it. I never unleashed any massive swear words at her, but I did tell her to shut up once.

You have to remember, parents care about reading levels and their kids living up to certain standards and learning all these certain things, and kids don't. Kids care about their friends and their place in the social structure. Your teacher may be doing stuff to help your kid, but it's stuff to help your kid live up to your standards.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:47 AM on May 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

Another data point. I got my mouth washed out with soap for saying the most minor of cuss words, such as "dang". I still don't cuss much.

But I wouldn't recommend eating homemade lye soap to anyone.
posted by ewagoner at 12:39 PM on May 20, 2004

I have a lot to think about, not the least of which is my reaction (over-reaction?) to what is probably a simple issue.

As a dispassionate observer, I'd certainly have to agree with that.

And kudos to grumblebee for the excellent advice in this thread!
posted by rushmc at 12:52 PM on May 20, 2004

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