“The Very Inappropriate Word” by Jim Tobin


Even though I don’t own a pair of yoga pants yet, I already feel like I belong to the Bay Area. I’ve found my favorite morning radio program. Fernando and Greg are my second cup of coffee, a perfect blend of wit and sarcasm to wake me up during the school drop-off ride. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be able to listen to them anymore. It turns out that while I enjoy the humorous chat, my five-year old turns on his listening ears for the songs played during the music breaks. The music is groovy and upbeat, so naturally he wants to sing along. He tries hard to memorize the lyrics, which, to say the least, are not the most appropriate for a little boy. It was time we sat down and talked about words worth and not worth using, repeating and singing.  I came across “The Very Inappropriate Word” by Jim Tobin at the right time.

Michael was a word collector. He kept finding words everywhere.  He discovered “slugger” at baseball practice,  and “spokes” at school. He loved huge words for little things, like “smithereens” or tiny words for large things, like “vast”. One time Michael picked up a new, strange word on the bus. According to his sister it was a very bad word. But Michael  kept hearing it around and finally started using it and even sharing it with friends at school. It was time for the teacher to act. And Mrs. Dixon knew just what to do. She sent Michael to the library to dig up some new words for his collection. It couldn’t be more effective a solution. Now that Michael’s word pile contained such treasures like chortle, vibrato or shenanigans, it was hard to remember where the strange “!&*^#” word was. 

In other words, the art of distraction at work. It’s certainly a trick worth trying. Children like learning new words… so why not to give them lots of opportunities to learn those things. The appropriate-for-their-age things, that is. As a result, there will be no room in their young brains for the “!#%^*” words.

And if we do happen to hear a  little swear word coming out of our innocent child’s mouth, let’s not overdramatize it. It will only make the child want to use it more. In my opinion, acting like nothing has happened works best with the little children. They will forget the unfortunate expression as quickly as they have picked it up. With bigger children, though, I think it is worth clarifying the appropriate/inappropriate difference and suggesting better word choices. And last but not least, it only works if we lead by example.

Bye-bye the morning radio programs. Hello “The Wheels on the Bus” song.

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