This past weekend, my dad, step-mom and half-sister came to see our new house for the first time. They live about three hours away, so we don't get to see them on a very regular basis. When we do get to see them we usually have a lot of catching up to do, and this visit was no exception. They were just passing through the area, so they were only able to stay for a few hours.
As we were sitting around our family room trying to fit in three month's worth of news into two hours, Alec was acting like he needed a nap (to put it nicely). He was being cranky, fussy, whiny, etc., which was making it pretty hard to have a decent conversation. So I allowed him to watch a show on TV as long as he kept the volume pretty low. For a while this worked. But after 15 minutes or so he began to get frustrated that he couldn't hear the TV over our talking. He looked at us and said, "Stop talking!" This is something he has frequently demanded before when he wants attention so I didn't think twice about it. I nicely explained to him that Mommy and Daddy were trying to have a conversation with Oma, Opa and Aunt Molly. This resulted in a little bit of whining and another, "Stop talking!" This time we continued our conversation without acknowledging him. And then it happened. We all heard a very loud and clear "Damn it!"...said by a 3-year-old. Well, needless to say, we all stopped talking.
After a brief second of stunned silence, we all sat there trying to keep ourselves from laughing. Alec immediately realized that he had done something that got our attention, which of course prompted another 3-year-old "Damn it," making us try even harder not to laugh. When I was finally able to speak without a trace of laughter, I told Alec that he should not say that word and if he did again it would result in a time-out. Fortunately (and very uncharacteristically of Alec), he listened and went back to his show without really making much out of it.
I am not about to sit here and tell you that I never let a swear word escape my lips in front of my kids. But I'm also not one to drop a four-letter word into every conversation. I reserve these words for stubbing my toe, dropping an entire plate of lunch on the floor, spilling coffee on the computer and other such incidents. But as much as I would like to blame the construction guys who are working in our kitchen for teaching my son this word, I'm pretty sure the blame falls on me for this one. Alec is at an age where he picks up on everything. Nothing gets past him, and I guess he has finally picked up on some grown-up words (maybe with the move and the lack of a current kitchen I've been doing a little bit more toe stubbing, plate dropping and coffee spilling!).
After Alec was asleep that night and Chad and I were having another good laugh over the incident, I realized that I probably should have taken a different approach to how I handled it. If I put myself in Alec's shoes, he has no idea why he got in trouble for saying this word. He's heard me say it, and I didn't get in trouble when I said it. But when he said it he was threatened with a time-out. I think on some level he knew that it wasn't a word he should be saying, but he didn't understand why. (Although like my dad pointed out, he definitely used it in the right context!). Regardless, I probably should have explained to him that it was a word that grown-ups sometimes say, but that we shouldn't say it either. Since Alec is still a Dora fan, I easily could have compared it to Swiper's phrase, "oh mannnnn."
Now that I know how closely Alec is taking in every word of what I say (even if I don't think he's listening), I am going to make a conscious effort to eliminate all 4-letter words from my vocabulary at all times. Maybe I'll even try to replace them with Swiper's phrase so that when Alec does feel the need to be a parrot he will be saying something that's acceptable for a 3-year-old. It shouldn't be too hard since like I said these words are not a normal part of my daily language. But I'm sure I will slip at some point, and I guess I'll just have to put myself on a time-out! Or I could always do what my dad did... Any time I caught him saying a bad word he had to take me out for ice cream. On second thought, that might not be the best solution for an ice cream addict; I'd probably end up swearing all the time just so that we could go out for ice cream! Now that I think about it, my dad isn't much of a 4-letter word user either so I have a sneaking suspicion that he sometimes looked for a reason to say a bad word! Damn it! I mean, oh mannnnn...