This week's episode of "Modern Family" already has people talking, and it hasn't even aired yet, because little Lily is going to (inaudibly) say the F-word.
How will Mitchell and Cameron react when their little darling lets loose with something so naughty? As daring as it is for the writers to push the envelope so boldly, I think it's great when television shows parents dealing with real issues, and the challenges that come when our kids do things that make us want to act as though we haven't a clue who that child belongs to as we slink further down into our chair.
In an ideal world, parents wouldn't worry about being judged by others when their children misbehave. We would understand that sometimes kids do things they shouldn't, regardless of how conscientious and enlightened their parents are, and offer a "So sorry!" to observers of our child's infraction without a lot of fanfare. What a liberating approach to parenting! Without a running mental narrative about how others are rating you based on how "good" your child is at any given moment, you're free to deal sanely with inevitable kid snafus without tripping over yourself to avoid the disapproval of outsiders.
Unfortunately, most parents don't have the confidence it takes to disregard other people's shameful judgements (real or imagined) when their child swipes a toy on the playground, melts down in the middle of the grocery store, or... lets loose with inappropriate language. Usual reactions range from looking the other way to swooping up the errant child and scolding her harshly.
Many parents launch a full-scale interrogation: Where did you hear that word? Who said it? They may blame the pre-school ("Those awful other parents..."), the neighbor kid next door, ("I knew there was something bad about that family") or -- perhaps as we'll discover tonight -- a mischievous cousin. They may even point the finger at one another, convinced that YOU polluted our innocent child!
What should a parent do if -- or when -- their child falls prey to potty mouth?
Much depends on the youngster's age, and how aware she is of the words she's saying. If a child is as young as Lily -- two-and-a-half -- the best approach is to make minimal fuss; the less she senses that the language she uses has the potential to create lots of excitement and attention, the less likely she'll be to use it again.
If a child has already discovered that using foul language is a guaranteed way to get lots of attention (even if it is negative), then a parent should choose a time when they're alone to explain that there are certain words that make people uncomfortable, and while it may not make sense (an older child's favorite argument is that "it's just letters and sounds!"), they are not allowed to use them other than when they're alone. (I actually know some kids who experiment with swear words in the bathroom, just to try them on!)
Rather than attempting to control every possible influence on our kids, it's best when parents calmly share their values with their children. "In our family, it's important that we make sure the words we use make people feel comfortable and at ease." Looking for a scapegoat to assign blame will rarely address the problem at its root. If the behavior continues, parents should minimize their response -- eliminating the payoff -- and simply explain that certain language is not allowed.
It's the rare child who hasn't done something in public to embarrass their parents. If we can maintain poise and some semblance of dignity as we suffer through those awful moments, these events often become the best stories to share down the road.
Hopefully, our favorite "Modern Family" will entertain us with a great story tomorrow, as they navigate the challenge of managing their reactions when their little darling experiments with "that" word. Should be interesting!