Paul Lesure, Hinesburg
Manager, Eastern Mountain Sports
Son Baker, 3
We don't want him to associate saying bad words with getting attention. We try to talk about it very matter-of-factly — in a professional way, almost. A parent might be really angry, but a 3-year-old can mistake that for excitement and think that he should get excited, too. So we try to make him understand it's not a joke; it's not playtime. We also try to explain why certain words shouldn't be said — what they mean and how they make a person feel.
The biggest thing as a parent is to watch your mouth. They truly are parrots and will repeat anything! We haven't had Baker drop any choice four-letter words, but we've had name-calling. When we're the ones who've said something bad, we usually apologize and tell him it's not a good thing to say and that we shouldn't say it, either.
Patrick Henry, Burlington
Health data analyst, State of Vermont; also blogs as Fuddy Duddy Daddy at patrickphoto.blogspot.com
Daughter Kate, 9; son Thomas, 10
We try to explain why something is or isn't appropriate without sounding like we're mad at them for saying it. Luckily, neither of our kids has ever challenged us about it, and usually they're really apologetic when it happens.
They definitely have a sense of what's right and wrong, although sometimes I hear "But my friends are saying it!" So I just remind them of what my mother used to say: "If all of your friends were jumping off a bridge..."
Of course, sometimes you slip up as a parent. One day when Thomas was about 4, I was working on a project in the basement with him, and I hit my thumb with the hammer and said something bad. The next day, Thomas was getting frustrated snapping together one of his Lego projects, and he yelled out, "Oh, damage!" — the word he thought I'd said the day before. I didn't say anything to him about it and somehow managed to get out of the room without laughing. It was a pretty funny substitution. From that day on, the D-word permanently changed to "damage" in our family.
Matt Looft, South Burlington
EMT and full-time nursing student
Son Alden, 5
When Alden comes home from kindergarten with bad words he's picked up, we tell him that even though he might hear those words at school, they don't show respect for mommy and daddy — or for his friends, either. We tell him that we know he's just having fun, but that in this family, we don't talk like that.
Actually, he'll often police us — he'll tell me "Daddy, don't say 'stupid!'" We always thank him for saying something and apologize for using a bad word while reinforcing that he shouldn't use those words.
The very first time it happened was actually pretty funny: I was cutting some wood when my hatchet slipped and cut my knee really badly. I said, "Oh f---," and when we got back to the house, Alden, who was about three, announced: "Mommy, Daddy has a f---ing laceration." I told him I was pretty impressed that he used the word "laceration," but told him that the other word was a really bad word that we shouldn't say.
The good thing is that he doesn't do it for attention — he's just trying to act and talk like a big kid.
Thomas Dunn, BURLINGTON
Adjunct Instructor, UVM
Daughter Fiona, 13; son Eamon, 10
We've been pretty strict about not having certain words in the house. My daughter won't engage in potty-mouth behavior, but my son loves to make people laugh, so that's been a more difficult battle.
When he was younger and repeating potty talk, we'd sit down and tell him that those words weren't appreciated. We'd try to gauge the motivation behind the use — sometimes it's best to let an innocent exploration of language fall by the wayside. For example, once he was playing with his train set at a school where I was working and he had one train tell the other engine "You're pissing me off." I knew he'd picked it up from the older boys and was just trying out different forms of language, so we let it slide.
But when he got old enough to know better and began using those words for attention, we immediately removed him from his audience. That sent a stronger message, because as much as he likes to make people laugh, he doesn't want to leave the room.