Sometimes the best way to let your kid know that you care is letting them say filthy, filthy words.
My 8-year-old kid has had a rough year. She's struggled with anxiety, school, friend drama, and her first experiences with orthodontia. Third grade has been much, much crueler than expected.
But I've stumbled upon a way to instantly cheer her mood and make her feel more in charge of her own life: I let her say "f*ck" occasionally.
No, honestly. It works like a charm and shows how liberating language can be . . . if you know all the best words.
It all started right after we informed our daughter that she'd be going to a different school next year. It was an extremely hard decision to make but ultimately, we thought it was for the best.
Her reaction was totally understandable. She cried her eyes out. It'd been a bad month already — she'd just gotten an awful expander bonded to her teeth that we needed to crank wider with a key every night, like a medieval torture device.
Her mouth hurt, she was frustrated, and we just dropped this huge uncertainty bomb into her lap over dinner. Her tears were both expected and earned.
As I laid in bed with her that night, watching her miserable, tear-stained face strain with the weight of her emotions, my mind raced. "How can I fix this? How can I cheer her up? How can I make this better?"
And then it hit me. I looked at her and said, "Hey, would it make you feel any better if I let you say 'f*ck'? Not all the time, just about this."
The tears stopped immediately. She hadn't been expecting that; I hadn't been expecting to say it. Not only had I just said the mythical F-word in front of her — a word I knew she already knew, thanks to a visit from some short-tempered relatives with impulse control issues — but I was also freely extending an invitation for her to say it herself.
"You're not serious."
"I'm serious," I told her. "You've had a hard day. Would it make you feel any better?"
She paused, not sure what to do. Was this a trap?
And then it happened. "F*ck," she whispered. "F*ck, f*cking, f*ck this!"
An enormous smile crossed her face, which only got bigger when she saw my smile. We both laughed, she squeaked out one more "f*ck," and then she gave me one of the biggest hugs I've ever received.
"Thank you, Daddy," she said. "That was great."
After that, no more tears. Her mood rebounded immediately. She was chatty, bright-eyed. She wanted to hear more about the new school.
For the next week, she kept shooting me conspiratorial looks every now and again and giving me hugs for no reason. All because I let her say "f*ck."
Now, let me be clear: I don't let my kid swear casually. If she dropped an F-bomb in public or for no good reason, I'd come down hard on that. I'm not a free-range parent when it comes to vulgarity. There's a time and there's a place.
But there IS a time and there IS a place, even when your kid is eight.
My swear therapy didn't work because I was suddenly being uber-permissive or giving my daughter free rein to do anything she wanted; My swear therapy worked because I was commiserating with her.
I wasn't trying to solve her problem. I wasn't telling her not to be sad; I was telling her, in a dramatic fashion, that this wasn't a pain I could erase. All I could do was sit with her, lend an ear, and just say, "I know, I know. It sucks."
Commiseration is an underrated parenting skill. It's hard because, as parents, we're used to troubleshooting problems. We kiss boo-boos; we glue toys back together.
But, as my kid has gotten older, I've realized that there is so, so much I can't fix. Being a kid is hard and as a parent, I can't always make it easier. But I can be there by her side if she ever needs me.
And, oddly enough, one of the most effective ways that I've found to let my daughter know I'm there for her in her darkest moments is by letting her swear.
I let her mark particularly bad or frustrating occasions with particularly colorful words. And it makes a difference. She senses that I respect her enough to give her special permission to stray outside of her normal boundaries when the situation calls for it.
Say "f*ck." Say "sh*t." Call your teacher an "assh*le."
I understand the urge. We ALL understand the urge. Say those words with me in our house, not in public — because I'm not giving her license to use those words to hurt other people.
I'm letting her use those funny little taboo curses to express hurt, fear, and frustration in a way that hurts no one, in a way that makes her feel special, in a way that most kids aren't allowed to do.
Letting my daughter say "f*ck" when she's in pain is the equivalent of taking a sad friend to a bar, buying them a drink, and sitting next to them in silence just so they know you're there for them.
Sometimes kids just need you to shut up and acknowledge that they're in pain. And in my experience, ignoring a few choice swear words when they're frustrated is an easy way to let them know that you're taking them seriously.
I always knew that "f*ck" was one of my favorite words, but I had no idea it could be such an effective parenting tool. It really can do f*cking anything.
Also from Your Tango: