I was raised by sailors. Well, not actually. To be more accurate, I was raised in a home where there was quite a bit of salty language. Cussing was standard fare for the adults. Naturally, when I was older, I incorporated my native language and “dialect”.
As I grew into adulthood, I decided this was not appropriate—that I wanted to use less coarse language. I determined to clean up my mouth (be patient with me; I’m still working on it).
When my wife and I started having children, we agreed that we would train our children to use respectful, mature language. We united in believing that appropriate language fosters a respectful attitude and produces gentlemanly and lady-like behavior. So we have tried very hard not to curse or use otherwise inappropriate language in our children’s presence.
Now that our children are all school-age, we recognize the need to eradicate potty talk from their vocabulary. Oh, how fun it is for them to experiment with words, discovering which are appropriate and which aren’t! Recall George Carlin’s The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television. We have The Seven Words You Can’t Say at the Dinner Table.
What we have learned is that if we have a high threshold for what is inappropriate, they will push that limit. Hard. Of course, we don’t allow our children to say the BIG ONES. But for a while, we thought it was cute when they joked about “poop” (I know some of you see how foolish this is). We quickly learned that this is not the ideal training method. If you allow the minor ones, they will use them. All the time.
The new rule in our home is absolutely no potty talk, no gross talk, and no inappropriate words while family is together. So our children may not discuss boogers, barf, or pee-pee at the dinner table; they may not make poop or butt jokes, get away with “wiener” or any other pseudonym for private parts. All of it is off-limits at the dinner table and during family time. If they want to talk about that stuff when they are on their own, they can have at it.
It is important for children to have permission to ask you in private about words. Any words. Our kids have complete amnesty when inquiring about a new word or phrase they may have heard on the playground. They know they have permission to say the word in order for us to judge whether it is appropriate or not (and whether we should strangle the child who introduced it to our little cherub). After this, they are expected to use the word appropriately (or not at all).
Remember, it is your job to train your child. It is a good idea to decide early on with your spouse the limit on “free speech” that is appropriate in your benevolent dictatorship. Communicate this limit with your child and enforce it as early as possible. Don’t tolerate any testing of your limits or you will have a little George Carlin salting up your home.