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The good word

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-05-2014 Gouri Dange

My four-year-old daughter hears the older children using the word “shit” very often while playing—when they drop the ball, or just for fun. Sometimes they say “bloody”. She has started using these words too. We have told her not to.  Recently she told us that it makes her feel good and even sought permission to go out on the balcony and say the words a few times. We jokingly said okay—and she actually went out and did it. She did not utter the words again for some days. Do you think what we did was right?

Well, it seems to have worked, your letting her go and say it out loud to her heart’s content! She is really small, and you will have to find different, age-appropriate ways of telling her at various stages why swearing is not okay. All children are tempted to use cusswords. The family has to find ways to let the child know why this is offensive and rude.

The other effort would be to get to the root of the need to curse. Sometimes it is just the fun and “cool” element of swearing like the older children, but sometimes it is to express frustration, disappointment or anger. It would be a good idea to not react by laughing or by chiding too much when a child swears, but asking her what she is feeling at the time—to identify the feeling and describe it rather than mouth off an expletive. It sounds funny sometimes when a child swears, but laughing encourages them to repeat it and amuse you and others. Anger signals that it’s a great way to get your attention or show you that they are angry.

There is also plain and simple boundary-setting—where you can allow some relatively harmless swearing or name-calling, but completely ban the more offensive kind.

When children express their feelings, and you listen for what they find annoying and what prompts them to curse, you can also come up with a few non-offensive words or phrases to use when she feels frustrated, upset or angry.

Children often use bad words when name-calling. Get her to tell you why she’s feeling that way, and how she can better express her feelings towards something or someone. Encourage her to use other, different words to describe how the person makes her feel rather than “she is a…”.

The other aspect is to check your own use of words like “shit”, which we tend to use to express a range of feelings, from regret about forgetting something to amusement, even as a show of sympathy when you hear some bad news. Don’t justify or deny that you swear or say “it’s okay for me to do it”. Instead, let your child know (perhaps this works for slightly older children) that you also struggle to control what you say.

My 17-year-old son, a brilliant student, is studying for the medical entrance exams. He has had a girlfriend for seven months, and her parents are showering him with gifts—they are related to his studies and work, including equipment and books, and paying for his access to world-class online study and reference resources. We feel this it is all too much, and though their intentions are good, they seem to have turned into his sponsors in some way. They are both in the medical profession and the girl is their only child. How can we broach this topic with our son and convey that he should draw the line somewhere?

This is a difficult situation. Whatever you say, you could come out sounding possessive about your son, and unfriendly and suspicious about the girl and her parents. Perhaps you could talk to your son about this without using words like “sponsor” or “takeover”, which may immediately put his back up. You could tell him that it does not seem like a good idea to accept gifts of this kind from people outside the family. See if you can also tell him that it is all very premature at this age to be so overly invested in each other, and especially for the parents to be doing this.

You could also tell him that you would like to speak to the girl and her parents. Find an appropriate time and tell them frankly that you are not comfortable, and that everyone involved needs to step back a little. Your son may be accepting the gifts because they are useful and, beyond a point, a boy his age is probably not thinking too much about who is giving them, or where they are coming from. Maybe this is the time for him to pay a little attention to the nuances. This is an important life lesson really—to what extent one should accept goodies from people.

The other thing you could gently tell him is that if for any reason this girl and he do not take this relationship ahead, it would be doubly awkward after having accepted all the gifts from her parents.

Between your son and you, you could first come up with the things that you will accept because of their easy access, which you cannot provide—for example, to papers and websites related to his studies. When it comes to the actual things needed to enhance his knowledge, either you could get these for him, or ask him to do what less “privileged” boys do—find it in their school/college, share some resources, etc.

Gouri Dange is the author of More ABCs Of Parenting (Random House), and ABCs Of Parenting.

Also Read | Gouri’s previous Lounge columns

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