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Every parent dreads the first swear word uttered by the first-born child, whether intentional or unintentional. If you are (un)lucky enough to have that golden moment happen at school, I’ve got some tips for coping and taking some of the parental failure sting out of the situation.
Let me first start with a preface; my son is a Kindergartener at a Catholic School. I went to a Catholic School and we felt our large public-school system here would’ve swallowed him up. We made the decision to send him there as we believed he would have greater success in a more intimate learning environment (read between the lines here, my son is a bit of a hellion and really needed a stricter teacher with a small class size to set a good educational foundation). One additional preface; I quit my corporate world job recently to work part-time at THE. SAME. SCHOOL. Imagine my embarrassment in facing the administration after the four-letter expletive was dropped this week. I’m that teacher, you know, the one whose offspring is ruining other kids’ childhood innocence.
However, like many of you, he had never heard said four letter word in our house. Ever! He has heard other colorful language on a few occasions and never repeated it, nor did we even have a conversation about it. He’s a typical five-year-old boy who thinks words that drive mom (me) crazy like diarrhea and puke are hysterically funny (especially when someone whispers it in church when their class sits in the front rows). Just last week, I thought I had slipped for sure when he said, “MOM!!! You said the ‘S’ word!” and my brain relived the dialogue we just had at warp speed. “You said STUPID. We don’t SAY stupid. It’s not nice!”
He would be correct.
Fast forward to this week, when he was sitting by my desk playing with Legos as I worked on my blog. He nonchalantly announced he said a bad word at school, and I smirked at my laptop, thinking he said stupid and his teacher scolded him for it. I am not so lucky. He said, “I dunno what it was… Fluck…. Fruck…. F@!&” and my heart absolutely sank. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. If you haven’t been there yet, you will be. If you have, you’re nodding in agreement with how truly awful that felt to hear for the first time.
Here’s how I dealt with this less-than-ideal exercise in parental think-fast-because-you-only-get-one-chance-to-react fashion.
Damage control step one–I did not make a world-ending mega-big deal out of it since experience tells me that can backfire, but I stressed the importance of what a nasty, unkind word it really is and that we should never say it. I reiterated that he’s never heard Mom, Dad, grandparents, family, etc. ever say it, nor has he heard it on TV (thank you, filtered channels!) because it’s that bad of a word.
Damage control step two–I reminded him that everyone makes mistakes, and that’s ok, if we learn from our mistakes, feel sorry for making them, and try not to make the same mistakes repeatedly. I also took that opportunity to use my favorite phrase, “I love you, and I will always love you, but I don’t love the decision you made.” I probably overuse this phrase, but I think it’s critical that our kids do not confuse our disappointment, frustration, anger, or even discipline with a lack of love or us not caring, especially at this age.
Damage control step three–I casually mentioned that if he continues to use that word, or any other word that isn’t kind, he may lose friends at school, because their parents want their children to be friends with the respectful, kind, caring children in his class (just as I want for him!). Words like that aren’t respectful, kind, or caring. That one seemed to resonate more than any of the other logic I used.
Damage control step four–I sent an email to the principal, and cc’d the teacher. Not just because I work there but because I wanted them to know I was aware it happened, we had talked about the importance of never saying it again, and that I want to be proactive if there might be a pattern of new behavior. The principal had actually made the trip to his room to discuss the incident and hadn’t had a chance to catch me to tell me herself. But the silver lining here is that my son was smart enough to tell me he had gotten into trouble, rather than waiting for me to get the surprise nastygram from school which, I believe, would have caused my head to spin completely around in anger. Smart kid.
And finally, damage control step five—I stopped beating myself up about it. We aren’t perfect. Neither are our kids. We must stop being so critical of ourselves for every perceived parental shortcoming when our kids make normal child-development-type mistakes. It’s how we react to the situation, how we take that opportunity to teach right from wrong, and how we forgive and show love after mistakes are made.
In the meantime, being human, I will still cringe slightly for the next few weeks when I see the teacher trying to catch my eye at pick up as I silently think, “Ughhh….WHAT NOW!?” when she says, “can we talk for a minute?” We’ll continue holding our breath when our kid announces he made a bad decision at school, cautiously optimistic his decision was more along the lines of talking during carpet time as opposed to dropping F-bombs.
And now suddenly diarrhea isn’t sounding so bad after all.
Sarah is a mom, wife, daughter, and (slow) runner who lives to eat, travel, cook, and create. Born and raised in The Mitten, she spent 13+ years in Corporate America before quitting her job to work part-time at her son’s school. With their extra time together, she’s teaching him to cook and bake and she expects his future spouse to thank her someday. 🙂 After blogging privately about her journey through infertility, she now enjoys journaling the time spent with her kid as they adjust to their new more frugal lifestyle. See more of her at Unemployed Happiness AND Double H Design.