Care and Feeding

Our 3-Year-Old Has Suddenly Become an F-Bomb Specialist

Daddy’s oopsie in a moment of pain is now our kid’s favorite phrase.

Three-year-old boy with arms crossed dropping f-bombs left and right.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

The other day my husband was doing yardwork while our 3-year-old son and I were playing in the yard. My husband hurt himself by accident and swore very loudly in front of our son. Now our son keeps saying “f*ing sh*t.” We’ve tried telling him we don’t say bad words like what Daddy said, but that didn’t work. Then we just stopped reacting to it hoping that would stop it. That didn’t work. Now he’s dropping F-bombs constantly. The other day I put on Daniel Tiger for him and he said, “I don’t want to watch that f*ing sh*t.” Help me!

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—Potty-Mouth Problem

Dear PMP,

I answered this question during Tuesday’s live video, but I’m going to expand on it here for a larger audience.

Frankly, I share your son’s opinion on Daniel Tiger, which is a disgrace to the memory of Fred Rogers, but that’s not really germane to your question.

This happens to everyone, sooner or later. Your son, bless his heart, is right on schedule. Now, for the benefit of the other readers, here’s my Captain Hindsight suggestion: You have to go straight to not reacting. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, act as though he has said “I like race cars,” and then hold the line.

Unfortunately, and very reasonably, you first reacted as most people do when their kid parrots Extremely Adult Language: “You can’t say that thing that your dad absolutely just said, what is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?”

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So, now you have two options: consequences or ignoring. It’s absolutely going to take longer for either of these options to work than if you had ignored it from the beginning, because 3-year-olds are little attention-seeking machines and often do not particularly prize positive attention over negative attention, and also if you go for ignoring, he knows you are bluffing. Happily, 3-year-olds do not have the longest of memories, so if you are consistent and wait him out and never so much as let the corners of your mouth twitch, he’ll eventually let it go.

In terms of consequences, you can just turn off the TV or take away the toy and say “we don’t say those words.”

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Either way, it’s going to take a while. In the meantime, start incorporating fake swears for those moments in which you absolutely must swear and practice until it feels natural to say “oh, ketchup! I have dropped an anvil on my foot!” My blessings to you.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

For the second time in a year or so I have caught my son and nephew in a disturbing position. The first time it happened, they were both 5. They are now 6. The first time they were hiding beside the bed with my son bent over, while my nephew attempted to put his penis in my son’s butt. At the time, we were all living in the same home. They were both talked to sternly and disciplined.

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Fast forward 14 months, and my nephew and his dad were over visiting. My nephew is often left overnight in the care of his grandmother. They were supposed to be in bed going to sleep. I came out of my room, and they were touching their penises to each other. Needless to say, I was furious with both of them. My son has some questionable behavior. Today I have been in tears all day and barely able to function.

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My question is, what should I do? Should I get some type of family and individual counseling for my son and I, or should I chalk it up to kids being curious?

—Lost in Texas

Dear LiT,

This is not “playing doctor” or curiosity. This is very bad. I would be extremely surprised if your nephew (or, potentially, your son) has not had inappropriate contact with an older child or an adult. This is above my paygrade, but I am glad you wrote to me.

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Do not be furious with your son. Do not punish him. He cannot be alone with your nephew. I want you to immediately seek counseling for him, and you need to call your nephew’s parents and tell them your concerns (this will be a challenging phone call) and tell them to do the same for him.

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You have witnessed two incidents. I suspect there have been more, and that your son’s “questionable behavior” is related to this. Don’t let anyone claim “natural curiosity,” and proceed forward to professional help at once.

I am very sorry.

• Want more advice from Nicole? Join her every Tuesday at 11 a.m. EDT for Care and Feeding on Facebook Live.

• If you missed Sunday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My middle-aged son and daughter-in-law cut off contact with me completely two years ago in an elaborately written email that blamed me for everything bad that ever happened to him and his wife. Since then I have written five emails to him (in 22 months).

A month ago he sent me an email saying that I was prohibited from contacting him further, and that he would call the police and charge me with harassment if I did. They live far away from me, in another province, have not seen any of the family members for at least three years, and I can’t see any grounds for harassment by me. I believe the letters are written by his wife but sent through his email.

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Recently, my siblings and my late husband’s siblings received emails from his email account that referred to an older female relative who was spreading lies about them and listed many things that “this person” (apparently me) had done wrong in their 18 years of marriage including being the cause of their inability to have children. Everything I have ever said has been remembered, noted, and twisted, right back to their wedding.

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My siblings decided not to tell me about the emails until someone let it out. I haven’t seen the actual emails, and I don’t want to. Some of the people who got the email replied in a generic way, the others ignored the emails (I think).

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I will go along with his or their wishes for no contact; it is their choice. But, I don’t think he/they should contact my siblings or in-laws with such accusations. When my siblings and in-laws don’t object to what my son and daughter-in-law have said—are they indicating approval? I wonder if my son even knows that his wife is writing from his email.

I worry about my son’s mental safety, and sometimes about my own. I believe his wife is very mentally unstable.

—Blame Me, Don’t Shame Me

Dear BMDSM,

There’s really not much you can do here. There is certainly a chance your daughter-in-law is writing emails from your son’s account and then deleting them from his sent emails; however, if your son wanted to talk to you, he would.

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All you can really do is respect their wish not to contact them (as you have already decided to do), and to correct actual factual inaccuracies if third parties bring them to your attention. You can’t control how others will respond (to emails that appear not to actually name you), and you also have to make your peace with the idea that, however upsetting, you also cannot control how your son and his wife feel about your conduct. I don’t know you, and I don’t know if their criticisms are valid. “Remembering and noting” are natural things to do, whereas “twisting” is in the eye of the beholder. I do think it’s extremely unlikely that you have somehow managed to prevent them from having children.

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The mental stability of adults who have chosen not to speak to you and asked you not to speak to them is not something you can control. You’re just going to have to move forward and live your life. This is a very unfortunate situation.

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Dan Kois, Jamilah Lemieux, and Elizabeth Newcamp host this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a wedding dilemma. One of my dearest friends is getting married in December to a less-than-great guy. She was my maid of honor, and I suspect this is why she has asked me to be in her wedding in the first place. She moved to another state three years ago, and I see her once or twice a year, although we keep in touch regularly.

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My question is, she has asked my 2-year-old daughter to be a flower girl and myself a bridesmaid. Not only will the wedding be expensive, but also three hours from my home. I love her dearly but I would so much rather be a guest and send her a nice gift instead. Thoughts?

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—Wedding Woes

Dear WW,

If she is one of your dearest friends, and you were her maid of honor, and she is not marrying someone who you believe to be abusive (“less-than-great” can mean any number of things), I think that you should probably attend her wedding. I suspect you meant to say “I would so much rather NOT be a guest and send her a nice gift instead,” because otherwise the fact that the wedding is expensive and three hours away seems immaterial (you’re going to be traveling three hours to attend, whether you’re a guest or whether you’re in her wedding party). In case I am mistaken, I am going to handle both scenarios, and a bonus scenario.

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You wish to attend as a guest and send a nice present but not be in the wedding party:

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This is fine. You can say that your toddler is very busy and you’ll be thrilled to attend but think it will be easier on everyone if you gracefully decline the offer to stand up with her, and instead watch your child and sit in the audience and dance your feet off that evening. This is especially easy if, as it usually does, being a bridesmaid means extra activities, a longer stay, or some kind of bachelorette trip.

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You do not wish to attend and would rather send a nice present:

You can do that; you are an autonomous human being. But I think she will be (quite reasonably) hurt, and it will permanently affect your friendship. If you see her once or twice a year and are in frequent contact, not attending the wedding will be making a particular statement that you will have a hard time recovering from.

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Bonus round: “Not-so-great” means that you think this guy is actually abusive, and not simply mildly boorish or prone to monologuing about his boat or how he’s the only competent person at his job:

I would attend but not be in the wedding party (using the excuses outlined in the first scenario). I would also try to offer any opportunity to be supportive to her. These are incredibly complicated situations, and if you are her dearest friend, I would not want to remove a source of love and support and isolate her further from people outside her relationship. Listen, watch, delicately counsel, and always, always take her calls.

I would love you to write back and let me know which of these applies in your particular case, and I wish you all the best.

—Nicole

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