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Episode 39

What to do with cussing
and potty language?

July 18, 2022

[Kyle]: In today's episode we're going to talk about potty language and cussing. What do you do when your kids are using it all the time and how do you help them talk differently?


[Kyle]: Hello, and welcome to episode 39 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: And before we get into the topic today of cussing. Yeah, we're going to talk about cussing. I want to encourage all of our listeners who are enjoying the content, to please send us a message, you know? We'd love any kind of five-star reviews. Last time I saw we had like 21, which was awesome, but I’d love to add a lot more five-star reviews and in the future, we might add something like, you know, as people start to review and comment, might add some little perks along with those kinds of things and we'll talk about that more in the future. But would love to get any kind of ideas you have about future content. We like to get a lot of our topics from people we talk to on a day-to-day basis, but getting those five-star reviews and you sharing the podcast, just helps a lot more parents have access to The Art of Raising Humans and hopefully, just create some-- A bunch of better families.

[Sara]: We actually do read it all, your comments, your-- If you send us a message, we read it and we really weave that into our future plans for the podcast.

[Kyle]: And you can go to our website, our website is and there you can see other content we have as well, other video trainings and courses that you can buy. But there you can also email us through that website, if you have any other thoughts anyways this is helping your family or any other possible, you know, subjects you'd like us to cover. So, let's delve into it today, Sara. So, today I thought we would talk about cussing and potty language, right?

[Kyle]: What is potty language?

[Sara]: That’s just that-- Everyone knows what cussing is, but potty language is anything that, you know, you go through these stages where your kids think it's so funny pooping, peeing, all those kinds of things.

[Kyle]: Farts, yes.

[Sara]: Yes, where it's like “oh, that's inappropriate” or “oh--”, that there are times and places where maybe those things are okay to say and times there aren't and so, it's just all that and then-- And I know you and I talked about this earlier. Even if it goes-- It can go-- We're also talking about “stupid”, “idiot”, “dumb”, those kinds of words that hold power in our culture.

[Kyle]: Hate. Yes.

[Sara]: And in certain places they mean more than others, but there's sometimes there's places we might be where words have certain meaning and so, you're thinking “oh no, don't say that!”, that's what we're talking about today.

[Kyle]: Well, and a lot of parents we run into, this is a problem, especially when kids start hearing other kids say these words and they find they get big reactions, you know? They start saying things like “poop face” or “stupid head” or things like that. I remember even in like, high school, I had a kid who his-- A friend of mine, a good friend of mine, his parents wouldn't let him say “crap” and my parents didn't really mind if I said “crap”. So, I left him a message. Because once again, we're old, so we left voice messages on answering machines where everybody could hear it. So, I called my friend and said something like “hey, when are you going to be done with that crap you're doing, so we can hang out?” and I gotta call back and he was like “dude! Don't ever say that on my message machine again! My parents won't let you hang out with me anymore if you keep saying ‘crap’”. So, there's all types of these words that really trigger things in parents and I know I’ve had several in in session lately who, the kids are cussing and the parent’s like “what do we do about the cussing? How do we stop the cussing?”, you know? And so, it seems to be a real issue in most families, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, I think we all have our boundaries and our “this is okay to say and this isn't okay to say” and I think that's great, there's some intentionality there.

[Kyle]: Yes. Yeah, I think it's important for your kids to know what you would like them to say and not say, right? Just saying anything and everything isn't going to help-- I think that's most the time why the parents worry, you know? Is they worry if the kid goes to school and says this. If the kid goes off and says it's at a friend's house, you know? That that's going to cause people to think less of them. So, I really do think underneath it, the triggering is “I don't want people to think less of my son or daughter, because they say these things”.

[Sara]: Don't want him to get in trouble, don't want him to accidentally hurt somebody's feelings or lose a friend over something that they've said.

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, how do we help our kids not cuss and use potty words?

[Sara]: Well, the very start for me is the energy we give it and so, what I mean by that is, little kids early on, even a two-year-old who has no idea what this word means, they hear mom or dad say it, they say it or somebody say it, then they say it.

[Kyle]: Maybe it's on TV even.

[Sara]: And all of a sudden, the room goes quiet, everyone's looking at him or the gasp of “what did you say!?” or even some people laugh at it.

[Kyle]: Of course, yeah.

[Sara]: It could be the laughter they get.

[Kyle]: Yeah, “it's so adorable, can you believe what he just said?”. Yes, yeah.

[Sara]: Or it could be anger, “don't you ever--!”

[Sara]: But whatever it is, you get this big reaction and it just the brain, without even the child intentionally, the brain just goes “whoa! That's a big cause and effect right there” and it creates energy around this word and then that goes into lots of words, lots of things that we might say that create this big response.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, I think what you're saying, what I hear you saying, Sara, is that energy and that cause and effect is about power. The kid goes “oh! Whoa! Look at that!”, it's no different than when a little kid is eating with a spoon of fork and they drop it, you know? That they're at first going “oh look, gravity”, but pretty soon people start going “don't drop that!” or they start getting-- And the kid just goes “whoa! Not only gravity, but look at that! Everyone gets like freaked out” and the kid’s not-- The kid obviously doesn't like the anger, the kid doesn't like the yelling, but the kid does think the power is kind of interesting, you know? That they could almost poke you and make you jump up and act this way.

[Kyle]: So, the words tend to be that way too or like-- Or when a kid hits another kid or when a kid does-- So, the words become this kind of experiment thing, you know? They're like “I know--" I remember the first time I actually heard a cuss word, it was-- I think it was maybe like fourth grade. I was walking back from school and some kids said the s-word. Now, everyone listening knows what the s-word is, right? So, the s-word, I won't say it on the podcast because we don't want like an explicit rating or something, but so, they said the s-word and I remember it was the weirdest thing, Sara. I came home and I was playing Intellivision, I didn't have an Atari, I had Intellivision and I was playing a game and my guy died and it just came out of my mouth. I just said-- I was like “oh, s-word!” and remember my mom was like “what!? What did you say!?” like and I was like “whoa! What did I say!? I don't even know what I said! All I did was heard a kid on the way home say it”, you know? And then when I died again, I said it again and I remember it was like three times in a row, it just felt almost unconscious, it was involuntary. Somehow my brain said like “let's experiment with this, let's see what happens if you say that”, you know?

[Sara]: Well, and I think too our brains are really drawn to big moments of emotion and so, probably you heard some kids say it or a lot of kids hear their parents say it in anger or in pain or in these moments of big emotion. That's when those words are used and so, our brains just sort of latch on to that and our kids, you know, as a child your brain just latches on “oh wow”, this big emotion happened and then this word happened and we create this connection there.

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, I think the mistake a lot of parents make though, Sara, when you say that. I think a lot of parents when you and I talk to them, they can see that, they can quickly see that pattern.

[Kyle]: Okay, the kid says it, I get real big, okay, okay. So, then-- You know, going back to other podcasts we've done like, about permissive parenting. If you haven't listened to that, I’d encourage you to do it, but it looks like then the parent just goes to that. There's this like “okay. Well, if I’m not freaking out about it, then I just act like I don't care”. So, I just get laissez-faire about it, right? Is that--? Is that the answer?

[Sara]: No!

[Kyle]: Okay

[Sara]: Definitely not, we're not about that.

[Sara]: No. So, first off, I have to evaluate myself and think “what reaction am I giving it?”, because I’m just feeding this thing at that point and that's on me. So, then-- We've done this with our own children, I remember when our kids first started hearing some words from other kids in the neighborhood. I just sat him down and said “yeah, there's these words, a lot of people call them ‘cuss words’. They're words and this is what you might hear” and so, I told them the cuss words and I told them at age-appropriate levels what those words meant.

[Sara]: Sometimes I might have just said “it's a word to say ‘I don't like you, you're mean’” and so, I took the energy out of it by not having big reactions when they said it to me and I said “if you ever hear a word, come and tell me what that word is, we can talk about it” and I told them what the words mean and I might be getting ahead, but then I walked them through why we don't want to say those words, you know? How do we want to treat people.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and I remember that day, I remember that day. I was actually counseling some people that day and you sent me a text and the text was “hey, the kids asked me what cuss words were” and I remember just texting you back “what did you do?” and you said “I just told them all the cuss words”.

[Kyle]: And I was like “okay, I wish I could have been there for that. I missed this fun conversation where you laid out all the cuss words for the kids”, but you--

[Sara]: Well, maybe not every one, because I’m not sure I even know every one.

[Kyle]: But you did it in such a way, that you-- I remember the kids that week had been hanging out with some neighborhood kids and they heard it and I remember we had some other neighborhood kids who were friends of our kids, who had said “oh, don't hang around those kids because they cuss”. So, there's already some kind of energy around those words.

[Sara]: Yeah, I can see it building.

[Kyle]: So, when they came back, they were like “oh no, we've been exposed to cuss words” and like-- And then you did a great job of just like, going back to like the open hand or the closed hand, is you were very open-handed about it, you know? I think when we give the energy around it, we get close-handed almost in a way of like-- I’m closing my hands right now and it's like “don't say those words! They're almost like fighting words”, you know? As opposed to like, coming open-handed and go “yeah, I wonder what those words are about, you know? How can we use those words in this culture?” and even I think a fun conversation, Sara, to have is “in other culture are those words also cuss words?”.

[Sara]: Exactly

[Kyle]: Or what other cultures have other cuss words? They've got different words they use.

[Sara]: Yeah, and I like that and I actually, we've had those conversations with our kids because it sort of shows them it's just a word. “In the U.S everyone freaks out because it's-- That means this, but in another country, it doesn't and in that country if you say that, then that's a really bad thing to say”. You know, I’m putting like, quotes around bad things.

[Sara]: So, just to help them realize, we assign this big meaning to the word.

[Sara]: So, I want to kind of pull back the curtain on that for my children and go “it's a word. The problem comes in when that word is used to hurt people and so, I don't say a lot of those words because I value people, I don't want to hurt people. How do we want to treat people? And sometimes meaning is lost when I just say a word, there's other words I could say that are going to be more helpful in that moment. So, let's talk about that. If I’m mad at you, I could cuss at you and say 50 cuss words or I could ‘say that hurt when you did-- You know, when this happened, my feelings got hurt or the story I’m telling myself is this and I could-- That would be more helpful to the repair in our relationship, than unleashing a bunch of cuss words” and so, we just had those conversations with our kids over time.

[Kyle]: Very open-handed, yeah.

[Sara]: To say “this is our value system, these are the words that are okay for us, these are the ones that aren't, this is why”.

[Kyle]: Well, and here's what I love about that. So, I think the best part you did about that conversation and with subsequent ones you and I have had with the kids about them, is not only being open-handed about just saying what the words are, right? Just exposing them. I think when you expose the words, you get the power away from them, right? But then the very next question the kids typically will ask is “why don't we use those words?”, you know? “Why don't we as a family use those words?”. So, that's an important thing, because if as a family, if as a couple, you do use those words a lot, it might-- It's going to be really hard to ask your kids not to. That that's a real hard thing for the kid to be able to do. Maybe if the kid's older, the kid could understand better what you're saying, but when you have younger kids, they don't really get the nuance of that thing. They think if you do it, it's okay to do it, okay?

[Kyle]: So, you and I don't on a regular basis use cuss words, you know? Because we have chosen not to, because we just don't think in-- For the most part, they're an effective way to communicate what we're trying to say, you know? And they also confuse. I think when we-- When I talk to the kids about it, it brings a lot of confusion, because you don't know who you're talking to and how they're going to receive that word, you know? It might be really offensive to them and that most people will get caught up on that word, you know? And then, now you've lost the whole point. So, the whole point of communication is coming to an understanding between you and another person and when you start using the cuss words, it becomes kind of confusing.

[Kyle]: The third component is, I think it increases emotion, okay? When I see people in my counseling office and they start to cuss at each other in particular, you see it typically is like fuel on the fire. It makes them more emotional, the person receiving the cuss words tends to get more emotional and it tends to really devolve into a very immature conversation, you know? So, I find when couples are talking about heated things and they don't cuss at each other, you actually come to a better resolution, you know?

[Kyle]: So, I think those points in particular are what we've emphasized with the kids. Is, one, you don't see us doing it. The reason why we don't, is because we believe there's better words to use and third, I think it confuses your audience of who you're talking to and the last one is, I just think it increases the emotion, you know? It makes it hard to have a real resolution to the conflict.

[Sara]: I think it does get a little complicated when your kids get way older. You know, I am thinking about younger teens and down and as your kids get older or even into adult, they're-- I think the rules don't look as clear, right? You know, their friends could be talking to each other and--

[Sara]: Right. You might have a different value just to what words you say and what words they say and it's not necessary at each other, where it's hurting your relationship, it's about the traffic or something like that.

[Sara]: And that's different and so, I do want to say we're not talking about that, everyone can decide that adult more grown--

[Kyle]: 100% percent, yeah.

[Sara]: You know, we're talking about when we're dealing with young children and we know they're headed out to school and certain words are going to get them in trouble, and we're talking about when kids are talking to each other or they're talking to us, how are we going to talk to each other? What does that look like?

[Sara]: So, I just want to toss that out there.

[Kyle]: Well, even to your point though, Sara, there's a lot of times I’ve had pastors come in for help and sometimes they will be getting kind of upset about something and they will say to me “do you mind if I cuss in here?” and I’ll say “no, I don't mind”. So, sometimes even we know as we're talking to adults, sometimes when that pastor in particular, he knows or she knows they can't do that in everyday context because it'll be misinterpreted, but in a session with me or you, they can just say those words.

[Sara]: To express a point.

[Kyle]: Yes, exactly, and in that case, to your point, it is communicating something, it is communicating an emotion that they have, yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah, and at some point, maybe that's a conversation we'd have when our kids are older. Right now, we're fitting it within “this is where they're at and their age and this is how we constructure it and support that.

[Kyle]: But, Sara, I’ve told the kids that. So, I’ve told the kids that, so I’ve told Abby, I’ve told-- Yeah, there's times where clients come in and they'll say this and so-- Yeah, once again.

[Sara]: Okay, yeah, and you’re around a friend or something that might--

[Kyle]: Yeah, you’re just being really open-handed about it, but in general we'll tell the kids “You just don't hear mom and dad do it, because we just think there's better words to use”, okay? So, I think what's really great about this and what I want to encourage all the listeners or what I hope they're hearing is, when you get away from the power of it, the power is connected to this dichotomous approach to language, which is “words are good or words are bad”, okay?

[Kyle]: And that's really--

[Sara]: At the end of the day that’s--

[Kyle]: The big picture is what you're trying to move away from, because what I’ve noticed, Sara, when the kids see it this way, with the good and bad type stuff, there was times when I’d be in a classroom as a school counselor reading like, a really great book to a Kindergarten class, first graders, second graders and I would have to like, purposely not say words that were in the book like “stupid” or “shut up” or things like that. Because I knew as soon as I did it, a good handful of kids in class would go “oh my gosh! Did you hear it!?” and like--

[Kyle]: Then the rest of the really great lessons in the book are just complete loss, because all the kids like “Oh, Mr. Wester said ‘stupid’. Mr. Wester said ‘shut up’” and I’m like “oh my goodness”, like kids are--

[Sara]: Yeah, and these are in children's books.

[Kyle]: Yes!

[Sara]: But the thing is like, this person had a value system where that was okay to say. Another book you wouldn't find that word in it, yeah.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, it would be frustrating and what I noticed was, Sara, is because they're in this good-- It's almost like now because that book said “stupid” or that book said “shut up”, now all the other good content is gone.

[Sara]: Yeah, they're not listening anymore because of the charge of energy that is around that part.

[Kyle]: It's all over-- Yeah, or another way I’ve seen it is, kids will watch a movie and there'll be some language in there, right? And the whole time they can't even enjoy the movie because of the 10 cuss words in it and sometimes they've even counted them and they've counted how many cuss words are in the movie and they can tell you exactly and that to me, goes back to the idea of “what you focus on, you get more of”. If I’m focusing on “bad words”, then I’m gonna see all the bad words and then I’m not gonna be able to see any of the good words. Because there's a lot of good words in there in that movie or in that book, that I’m no longer able to see.

[Sara]: There's a place where you can choose what words you're going to say and not say, that doesn't have to be in a place of judgment and in that place of judgment, we do what you just said, we-- You know, we're judging the whole thing and we lose sight of the whole big picture because we're focused on this one word or yeah. So, I think that's a really great--

[Kyle]: Well, with-- So, it's coming at the movies, the books, the time-- Just open-handed about what is the purpose of language, you know? And so, it's not about having the good words or the bad words, it's really about trying to express, you know, what you're trying to say and talking about what's the best way to communicate that to somebody else, you know? And so, when you can get away from that power, one, you get away from the good and bad language. The other thing I was going to say, Sara, is this goes back to previous podcasts we've talked about resistance doesn't change things, a resistance breeds resistance. If I hear my kid’s using words like “poop” and you know, all these kinds of things and I get really big and upset about it, I’m resisting the language. Whereas what you modeled to the kids was acceptance, acceptance is what changes. So, the kids heard it, the kids were exposed to it or this movie had it and so, let's just talk about it, you know?

[Kyle]: So, “how did that feel when you--? Did you not like hearing those words in the movie? Did it make it harder to enjoy the movie because of those words?” and so, just have that curiosity about the words and how the words affected you and whether or not you want to use those words.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah. There's so many places you could go with this conversation, because I also find it interesting to notice where that person is at. So, to help my children not judge people who are using words that are different. So, maybe let's say “stupid”, I don't want my children to say “stupid”, I think there's maybe a better way, to use as an example and-- But then, they hear a friend who says “stupid” and that's a great opportunity to say “oh, what was your friend saying? How did your friend feel?” and just expand their empathy for the other person, their understanding and to step away from that judgment seat, which isn't going to help you or the other person.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. Well, I remember actually when I was working at a mental hospital with a guy, who he seemed like a great guy and he seemed like he really cared about the mental patients we were working with, but oh my gosh did that guy cuss, like he was cussing all the time and it really caused some confusion in me. Because I’m like “how does he have no self-control over what he says?”, right? And so, I did Judge him for a while. For a while I thought he must not be the “good guy” I thought he was.

[Sara]: Because he said all those bad words.

[Kyle]: Yeah, like he has no self-control of his language, right? And so-- And because there was power in my home around these things, right? And so, then when I sat down and talked to him one day, it was funny his reaction. He's like “dude, I know I cuss all the time. I’m trying to get better at it, but man, in my home like, every other word was a cuss word”. So, he's like “I am just like wired to think and say cuss words” and he's like “dude, when you hear me doing it, just remind me because I’m trying to get better at that”.

[Sara]: Yeah, and that's-- That goes back to that cultural piece, you have to realize in some homes these are bad words and in other homes, those are the bad words and what is everyone's norm changes. So, if we can help our children just hold that like, you know, what you say like, with open hands and think about my place in the world and how I want to show up, but careful on how I judge other people.

[Kyle]: Yeah, I even remember going to England and I was on a missions trip and the pastor I was with said “man, this is a bloody great occasion!”. The other Pastor was like “what did you just say?” and even as like a 16-year-old 17-year-old kid I was thinking “that's interesting because bloody would never seem to me to be--"

[Sara]: You could say that here all day.

[Kyle]: Yeah, but the other guy just got upset about it, like that's strange and that's when I really started expanding my understanding of language and how we use it and why we give it so much power, you know? So, I guess just in wrapping up, you know, what we're trying to point out is your kids right now, if they're in elementary school or in high school, you know, we see kids all the time-- You know, I actually had this one kid who came to me, Sara, who was telling me the way it works in elementary school for him, he's like, in third grade kids first start whispering these words, they start whispering cuss words. You know, they do it on the playground when no teachers--

[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, he was like “oh my gosh, look at what you said”. He said by fourth grade though, you start trying to say it out loud a little bit and see if a teacher hears you, you know? To see the teacher or another adult go. You know? And he said by fifth grade, you just don't care anymore. By fifth grade you just start saying it and however the teacher acts, it doesn't matter anymore, it's almost like you've got numb to this reaction, now it's just part of how you talk, you know?

[Kyle]: And so, I just thought that was really intriguing, because I did see that as a school counselor, this growth and how these words became badder and badder and badder and soon, I became the bad kids saying the bad words, you know?

[Kyle]: So, in wrapping up, what we would suggest is, first of all, if you're a parent who does cuss a lot, that is an issue. If I don't want my kids to do it-- I’ve had parents come in who don't want their kids cussing, but then in traffic they're cussing all the time. So, there I would say, if you want your kids to not cuss, I would invite them into that. I would say “hey, listen son or daughter, I’m trying to get better at this, you've seen me get really mad and use these words this way, I don't want to do that anymore. How about you and I keep each other accountable to not using those words anymore? How's that sound?”, right? And there you can invite the kid in to moving towards something positive, rather than stopping something you see as negative.

[Kyle]: So, once again, it goes back to big picture is resistance will breed resistance, so acceptance is really what changes it. So, if you as a parent can accept how you're modeling the language, except how the kid is talking and the power you're giving to it and then you can just come open-handed about words and how we want to use them at home.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah and just have that goal of where you want to go. The goal isn't to stop this, the goal is, how do we want to communicate in these moments? And so, let's do that together. How are we going to do this?

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. So, even if kid saying “I hate you”, you know, we don't want our kids saying that, because I think it's a very powerful word to say. So, I’m rather he say “I’m really mad at you”, right? So, what we're suggesting instead of you controlling it and you stopping it or you saying “huh, whatever, I’m not gonna have any energy around it”, is disciple the kids, like really disciple them. So, guide them towards how you want them to use language in the home and then you'll find out you start to have this value about how words are used with each other during conflict or just even regular conversation, okay?

[Kyle]: Okay. So, I hope this is helpful to you, because I know especially during summer, I bet you might have heard-- I know in Oklahoma it's really hot, so I think there's been a lot of cussing in Oklahoma. It's been like 100 degrees for the past like week, super-hot. So, people and when they're spending a lot of time together in the summer, there can be a lot of-- Kids can fall into these habits of watching TV, hearing these words or you know, using them. So, we hope this is helpful to you on how to move away from giving these words so much energy and helping lead your kids into just a more helpful way of using language, right? So, thank you for listening and I hope you're having a great summer with your kids and look forward to talking to you soon. Have a great day.

[Sara]: We appreciate you.

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