What’s the worst thing you can say in front of your kids?
Perhaps it’s the accidental “shit” when you stub your toe, or a “crap” when the car won’t start. Or even the nonsensical “bollocking-shitballs” when you spill a mug of tea all over the kitchen floor and the cat (don’t worry, he’s fine).
This seems to be the case in Danny Dyer’s house. The celebrity dad, well known for his use of fragrant language, said his kids – Sunnie, 12, and Artie, five – have had enough of his swearing at home and regularly tell him off.
“I’ve got to get it out of my system,” the EastEnders star said on The Jonathan Ross Show. “I can’t do it at work and they (my kids) pull me on it. They’ll go ‘Dad, you’re swearing again!’”
But, in my house, it’s not the ‘F’ word that’ll get my kids to gasp out loud – though admittedly, when one sneaks out, that does happen – but a quieter, more insidious phrase.
The ultimate swear-bomb for us is “shut up”. And if it’s ever heard, or uttered, it’s met with a deathly, shocked silence.
I’ve witnessed my daughter running out of the school gate, pulling me down to whisper seriously that someone at school said the ‘F’ word. When I quizzed her on exactly what happened, she revealed what the child had actually said was, “shut up”.
I don’t mind my children repeating rude words they’ve heard and don’t understand. I’d prefer they ask me about them so I can tell them why they shouldn’t be said. (We’ve had lengthy discussions on the ‘B’ word, for example, and I’ve explained why lyrics calling women “bitches” are banned, because the word itself is derogatory and offensive.)
But if it really came down to it, I’d much rather my daughter said “shit” than “shut up”. Because telling someone, adult or child, to “shut up” isn’t just plain rude – it’s dismissive, designed to shut someone down completely. More than that: it’s a power play; a form of control.
It’s also deeply wounding. In telling someone to stop talking and to literally ‘shut their mouth up’, we’re informing them that what they have to say doesn’t matter. And that stings just as much as a slap to the face.
I know from my own kids’ behaviour that when they have something to say, they need to say it right then and there. Annoying as that can be at times, I try not to get too irritated, because it’s clear they feel physically unable to keep it in.
My seven-year-old is frustrated almost to tears when I ask her to wait, and not to interrupt. In her words: “But if I don’t say it now I’ll forget.” And I understand. I would never, ever, tell her to “shut up”.
The old adage of, “words don’t hurt” isn’t true. They can hurt, deeply. But give me a “shit” or a “fucking hell” any day. “Shut up” hurts more than any of them.