When good kids say bad words

swearing child
swearing child Photo: Getty Images

“Oh, bugger!” exclaimed my three-year-old son. The determination on his face was intense, and his eyebrows furrowed as he let out the expletive.  The challenge at hand was trying to insert an oversized Lego man through the tiny window of a toy car, and clearly things weren’t going to plan. 

“Thomas, that isn’t a nice word and we don’t use it,” I said calmly from my pew on the sofa while practicing my best ‘serious mum’ face. “Where did you hear that?”

Looking up at me, he tilted his head to one side, appearing to think for a millisecond before responding very matter-of-factly: “I heard it from Daddy.”

I will admit that my initial reaction was to conduct a mental fist pump that I was not the culprit in this crime, but then I reverted to being an adult. I reminded the lesser-used, mature part of my brain that this was not about playing the blame game, but instead about dealing with the issue at hand. 

So in my most ‘serious mum’ voice I responded, “No, I don’t think that Daddy says that, Thomas.”

I hoped that would be the end of it so I could return to my tea and him to his Lego. But that was never going to be the end of it because, as we all know, three- year-olds: a) always like to have the last word, and b) generally think they are right so want to prove a point.

In conforming to true three-year-old code, Thomas put down his task at hand, looked me in the eye and adamantly said, “Mummy, he DOES say that word. He said it the other day … right after he said ‘Oh sh*t!’” 

A definitive nod from him and a snort of tea exiting my nostrils punctuated the end of this statement as well as the end of the conversation –because, quite honestly, what could I say?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting for one moment that I accept or encourage my son to use language like that; of course I don’t. But the reality is that he’s three and doesn’t understand the true meaning of what he’s saying. He’s only mimicking what he hears around him… particularly what’s uttered by his superhero father.


Having said that, however, I took great pleasure in giving my husband a stern talking to that evening. I spoke about his choice of language around our son, and made it perfectly clear that it was totally unacceptable and not a habit we wanted to be responsible for. Naturally this all went down like a lead balloon, but it needed to be said.

So you can imagine the look of absolute mirth that filled his face as karma literally swooped in the door minutes later to bite me on the bum. 

Just as I was walking away to make myself a much earned cup of tea, a little voice piped up outside with three words. Three words that travelled through the open window expressing frustration, three words that were mimicked in the resigned, under-the-breath tone that I use. Three words which, right at that moment, I felt like uttering myself. “Oh, bloody ‘ell!”

I think we’ve all got some work to do then …