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What To Do When Your Little One Says Bad Words

This article, entitled What To Do When Your Little One Says Bad Words comes from Nicole Knepper, writer of Moms Who Drink and Swear © on

It’s been said that the difference between a good joke and a great joke is often found in the delivery. But I think the content is just as important as the delivery. My kids have mastered the art of delivery, but as far as content? Let’s just say there is still much work to be done before they understand what makes a joke genuinely funny. Same thing with curse words. Sometimes even the worst word is tolerable, even hilarious, especially when it's delivered by an innocent toddler.

When my kids produce a a joke with good delivery and bad content, I applaud them for the effort and send them back to the drawing board. I’m not going to lie to them. And I do expect them to refrain from telling jokes that are hurtful or inappropriate. Cheap humor isn’t the sign of a great comedic mind; it’s the sign of laziness. And I don't approve of them casually swearing either.

Many years ago when I was playing UNO with my son, and he was only FOUR years old, he told me a joke that made my breath hitch and my stomach churn. At first I thought we were just having chitchat over a game of cards.

Kid: Hey Mom – why can’t you play UNO with Mexicans?

Me: You CAN play UNO with Mexicans. I have played UNO with plenty of Mexicans.

Kid: Um….I’m telling you a joke here.

Me: Oh sorry. Go on.

(I knew it was going to be bad, but I had to hear it)

Kid: You can’t play with Mexicans because they steal all the green cards.

He held his little belly and giggled.


Me: That “joke” is inappropriate.

Kid: Well, I don’t know what you are talking about. Green is the Mexican favorite color. I’d steal the red cards. Red is my favorite color. You would steal the green ones like a Mexican, because are Irish and you love green.

Me: Dude – the joke isn't about favorite colors. A green card is like a permission slip. When people are not citizens of this country, they are issued a green card so they can live and work in America legally. Many immigrants want green cards. People from all over the world come to American to live and work, not just Mexicans. And by the way, if you ask ten Mexicans what their favorite color is, you would probably get ten different answers; just you would in any country! WHO TOLD YOU THAT JOKE?

Kid: Nobody told me. I heard X telling it to M at school.

(X and M were employees at the kid’s daycare. His Christian daycare)

Me: Well, it’s not appropriate so I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t repeat it again, okay?

Kid: Ok Mommy. Want to hear another one?

Me: You know, I really prefer knock-knock jokes.


The kid was FOUR YEARS OLD! Honestly, I would have preferred hearing him ripping off a good cuss combo, because in my opinion, one of the funniest things about parenting little ones is when they say bad words without really understanding them or realizing they are even doing so. Teaching a toddler not to say bad words is a lot easier than explaining the sad reality that bigotry and homophobia is alive and well in society.

The years have taught me to have more realistic expectations when it comes to what my kids are going to say and I now have more effective ways of coping with what they say. I do not miss the old days when I had to start from square one in order to explain practically everything to them. Yeah, the conversations are still hard, but they are easy/hard because my kids have some life experience and context.


But this context, their context, includes a mom who does swear a lot. By some miracle neither of my kids has integrated much of my profanity into their colloquial conversations. They seem more offended when I say words like “hell” and ‘’stupid.” However, sometimes they do say things they shouldn’t and when they do use inappropriate language, I am quick to explain why they shouldn’t. Time and place, right?

If we are in public, amidst strangers, I act disgusted and pretend I don’t know them at all. Just kidding. I beat them bloody, especially if we are in Wal-Mart (I sure hope the sarcasm translated there). If we are at home, or around people I hope to impress, I listen and wait for the teachable moment, which usually involves me feeling slightly embarrassed, but mostly grateful that neither is channeling me or their inner Cartman and singing The Minority Song or telling the Aristocrats joke, neither of which I can bring myself to link here (You’ll just have to look those up yourself. I can promise you that it will make you feel much better about any terrible thing your kid has ever said either in public or in private).

I often wish I didn’t have such a potty mouth, but I also wish I didn’t have blue eyes. Both things are so much a part of me. I really believe that science is close to finding the genetic markers that account for smut talkers like me. So far, my kids seem to take after their father, who reserves his bad language for when a very important and disappointing sporting event is making him angry or someone cuts him off in traffic and practically kills us all.

When did your kid innocently utter his/her first bad word, what was it, and how the hell did you react?

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