Oh Fudge: ABCs of Dealing with Exposure to Foul Language


During the summer of 2014, my father-in-law had a heart transplant (a story for another time). As a result we spent a lot of time at the University of Iowa hospitals. No one was more grateful than this mama that there was a great playground on the hospital grounds for patients and visitors. My toddler loved getting some time to run and climb after being cooped up in a waiting room. His favorite part was a giant frog that he could climb all over. The minute he would spot the frog from the windows by the elevator, he would start yelling, “Frog! Frog!”

Only it sounded like another word.

The kind of word that confirmed for me that kids have a built-in parental mortification sensor.

The kind you don’t want your two-year-old gleefully shouting at anyone. Anywhere.

And really, up until recently, that was my only experience with my kids and that word.

Then, a few weeks ago, driving across town, I hear my sweet, adorable firstborn shout that word.

Oh Fudge: ABCs of Dealing with Exposure to Foul Language
photo courtesy of red wagon design

“Um, buddy… what did you just say?”

Confirmation of that word.

That’s when I realized: I have no plan.

It never occurred to me to have a in a two-year-old. Well, okay, my “plan” was to not expose him to foul language.

Thankfully one of the skills that seems to be in the universal mama toolbox is the ability to regroup. So I fumbled through that initial car conversation and started asking friends and researching. One resource I came across suggested the ABCs of dealing with foul language, and that was the inspiration for creating my own list:

A is for Ask questions.

You know–the million that are racing through your mind. Where the exposure happened may or may not be relevant to your next steps, but it would be good to know! You might also ask why he said it, try to figure out what led up to it, etc. What would be an important question for you?

B is for the Bigger picture.

In my mind, the main reason for caring about what comes out of our kids’ mouths isn’t because we might be embarrassed by it. If my kiddo is trying out that word because he’s lonely (and seeking my attention) or because he’s frustrated (and doesn’t know how to work through something), I want to know because those are heart issues I can help guide. In our house, we often tell our kiddos that we do what we do as parents so that it will go well with them. I definitely think helping them make wise choices about what comes out of their mouths fits that category.

Oh Fudge: ABCs of Dealing with Exposure to Foul Language

C is for Consequences.

How would you handle other language you didn’t approve of (e.g. talking back, being unkind)? Whatever an appropriate consequence looks like for you, be sure that any time you hear the words you don’t want used, you respond quickly (so they realize it has to do with the word—especially if they are as young as my kiddo), carefully, and consistently.

D is for Don’t beat yourself up.

Okay, maybe this one is just me reassuring myself. I definitely don’t wish early exposure on anyone. But when I try to have perspective, I’m able to see that although there may be been one or two moments of exposure to unfortunate words, I have the daily opportunity to fill his little ears with language that build up and encourage him and others.

E is for Empower your child.

What words are appropriate to say in your house when you’re frustrated, hurt, or angry? What should your child say if she hears another person use language you don’t want her to use? For us, we’re using “no, thank you” and “that’s an unkind word” as options.

This is definitely still a work-in-progress at our house. Good thing we have a village to help us figure it out. So, come on, mamas… there are a lot of letters left in the alphabet.

What has worked as you’ve addressed foul language exposure with your kiddos?


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