Don’t make cuss words look like forbidden fruit

There’s a good reason why they say that it isn’t just the parents who give birth to a child but also a child who gives birth to parents. Almost overnight the responsibility of a life is thrust upon two unsuspecting individuals who are wary of every little decision they make. The refrigerator gets a makeover as the house is baby proofed; in short life as they have known it, is gone for good.

Among other things, we start minding our language. The colourful expletives meet the same fate as the junk in our cabinets; relegated to the back and taken out only when the baby is not in sight. Despite our best intentions, we falter. We munch those chips and let those words slip past us occasionally. The kids hear, they see and they absorb it all and seem to have an impeccable timing when to showcase their skills.

And then there’s the external environment on which we have no control. We can sanitize our immediate surroundings but beyond that we are helpless. Cuss words sneak into their lives just as they must have in ours. All those parental controls, or movies with the UA certification fail at some point. I find those beeped out words in movies especially annoying. A child may otherwise not pay any attention when the actor mouths a bad word, but beep it out and you are sure your little one’s interest is piqued. And the parent is left to her wits to handle the barraging that follows.

So probably our energies should be invested in not as much in controlling ourselves, but how to tackle it when it happens. Swearing at children is a definite no-no, but if a word has made its way out of your mouth, fret not. Do not make an attempt to smother it, that will just attract your kid’s attention. Making it look like a forbidden fruit never helped. Ask Adam and Eve, if you don’t trust me.

Use the misstep as a teaching opportunity instead. Apologise that they had to hear it. Sit them down and explain that it happens sometimes. And just because you did still doesn’t give them the license to.

If the child is older, maybe try explaining that it just isn’t the words but the context in which they are uttered that is more important. I have heard the same words being used as an insult and other occasions as nothing more than an exclamation mark.

We may like it or not but swear words will become a part of our child’s lexicon. For me, like every other influence in my child’s life, I’d rather tackle it head on than avoid it. Making my child aware makes me rest easy than leaving stuff to nature.

Lastly, with time, I have learnt one more thing. Every time I hear a child use a cuss word, I resist the urge to judge his or her parenting. Parents have their own set of rules. To each his own is the mantra that I now choose to follow.

-Dr. Shivani Salil
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