Latest Publications

Cool Stuff Your Parents Never Told You About Parenting

print edition

Our Learning Journey As Eco Explorers


Sign up for Newsletter

Subscribe to my free “Making A Difference” Newsletter for updates on current issues regarding Early Childhood Education.

‘’Mom, I know what the f-word means’’, said my 7- year old.

Yes. ‘That’ day has come, and It came a little too soon for me. I didn’t think that I’d have to deal with something like this for at least the next 5 years…


…not that I’ve never had to address swearing with young children. I remember having a 4 year old in my class a few years ago who learnt to curse and swear from her mom….. and being an early childhood educator, I handled it by explaining to her that we need to say things that shows respect and love for other people, and that cursing (in other words, saying nasty things) reflects very poorly on us because it shows that we are not being respectful and loving towards other people.


It usually just ends there with a brief explanation of the meaning of the ‘inappropriate words’ that they used. However, as children grow out of the early childhood stage (like in the case of my boys), the discussion doesn’t ‘just end there’.


I knew this day would come, it was just a matter of time. Plus, I’ve heard some other children using the ‘f-word’ on their school bus on days when I had to hitch a ride with my boys to see their teachers. These children were a little older of course, but still, I knew this discussion would have to happen eventually.


So one day, after my son returned from school, we had a quiet snack together and that was when he brought it up…


Mom, I know what the f-word means. My friends were talking about it today.

(Really. cool! so tell me…what DOES it mean?)

Well, my friend says that it’s the short form for the word ‘f***’

(Aha. and what does that mean?)

It’s actually a bad word in Chinese

(WHAT?) <trying really hard not to laugh> (Are you trying to say that the f-word is a Chinese word?)

Yeah, because it’s not in the English dictionary.

(Oh wow! I would never have guessed. But what does it mean?)

It means this <points to his middle finger>

(Ok, so the f-word means ‘finger’. that makes a lot of sense because finger does start with the letter ‘f’)

No. It means the middle finger. Just the middle one. But my friends say that we must never raise just the middle finger because it means the f-word and the adults will get very angry when they see it.

(Ah! Interesting! Yeah, I see a lot of people say the f-word and raise the middle finger especially when they are angry and I don’t really understand why. Here, let me tell you what I know and you can see if it make any sense to you, ok?)

Ok <sits upright and listens intently>

(Ok, the f-word is actually an English word or rather an English slang, which is something people say but isn’t really a proper word, which is probably why you wont find it in the dictionary. From what I understand, the f-word means ‘I want to have sex’. Remember the book we have on our shelf about sex? And how it’s for married people to do in private and for making babies?)

Yeah. My brother and I read it sometimes.

(So the f-word means ‘I want to have sex’ and I hear people say f-you sometimes which I think means ‘I want to have sex with you’. and the middle finger represents the man’s reproductive organ.)

OH! I seeee!

(So technically, if a husband or wife say that to each other when nobody else is around, that’s fine and as such, it really isn’t a bad word. But when people say it to other people whom they are not married to and especially when they are angry and in a public place, that’s when it doesn’t make sense to me. Just imagine, why would somebody say f-you to someone he doesn’t even know? Does he want to have sex with someone he’s not married to?)

Yeah, that’s a bit strange.

(So I guess that’s why it becomes a bad word when you say it at the wrong place and at the wrong time…)

Yeah and to the wrong person!



Here’s my son showing me the finger that mustn’t be raised less it gets too much attention from adults!


So there you have it…typical of me to turn every situation into a learning opportunity! And I’m really glad that he brought this up with me or that he was comfortable enough to approach me about this.


But I still wasn’t entirely happy with my limited understanding of the f-word so I did a quick search on and it turns out that the verb of the f-word is ‘to have sexual intercourse’.


Yessssssss!!!!!! I was right after all! I wasn’t really sure because I brought it up to my hubby once when he said it. He said ‘f-him’ when he was talking about a guy at work who was a trouble maker. At that point, I took the opportunity to ask him to explain how the f-word works because when I hear my hubby say it, in my mind, I see a picture of my hubby having sexual intercourse with his guy colleague. YUCK!


How is that even cursing AT a person? To me, it sounds more like you are cursing at yourself by telling yourself to have sexual intercourse with someone you don’t even like. If my understanding of the concept of cursing is right, it would be to say something derogatory or which shows disrespect to someone. But when someone says ‘f-him’, doesn’t that sound like he is saying something derogatory about himself?


In any case, when I brought that up to my hubby and asked him to explain how this term works, he just couldn’t. For once, the walking thesaurus in my family couldn’t explain a word to me (and one that only he uses in this family). I’m not sure if he’s suddenly figured out how stupid the whole thing sounds after hearing my explanation about it but he never did give me an answer to my question.


Interestingly, he hasn’t used it since!


But seriously, I teach my 4 year olds to mean what they say and say what they mean. Why is it that so many of us do not even take a minute to find out what we are saying?


And the best part is yet to come! When I spoke to some friends about my son learning about the f-word, guess what are some of their responses? Here’s a compilation for your reading entertainment….


“OMG! His friends are bad influence. You should tell him not to mix with this bunch of children”

“You should talk to the teacher about this so she can punish his friends for teaching him all these things”

“Where are the teachers when these things happen? The teachers should be there to stop it from happening”

“That’s what you get when you send your children to international schools and they start mixing with the westernized children! They learn all the westernized problems”


Ok, before we go into further discussion, let me just clarify…these people are actually NOT my friends. They are just random people I see on a regular basis…like Facebook ‘friends’ whom you’ve never met in your life.


In any case, these responses are not unusual. In fact, I’ve worked with a great number of parents who believe that the only way to protect their children’s innocence it to prevent them from being ‘exposed’ to things…by being overprotective.


It’s not reasonable to ‘protect’ or shelter your children from everything…though some of my homeschooling friends would beg to differ…eventually, they will learn things from their friends, from TV or even from you!


In fact, I do have friends who were sheltered all their lives…till they left for college to study in a different country (myself included) and guess what happens? They get a cultural shock and two common things happen, (1) they embrace everything without any ability to discern what’s right and wrong or (2) they hide away and keep to themselves. Either way doesn’t end well. Luckily for me, I was a very perceptive person who was always the defiant child who went against all efforts by my mom to ‘shelter’ me from all things that are not meant for ‘innocent’ children. So when I left home, I was constantly questioning assumptions and norms and deciding for myself about what I wanted to do…did I also mention that I’m a non-conformist?


I’m not saying that we should all go out and expose our children to all the evils in this world so that they are immune to them… but rather to teach children to question and to think about everything that they do so that they can decide for themselves what is right and wrong and good and bad for them and for those around them.


So remember, it’s not our job (or the teacher’s) to ‘shelter’ them from ‘bad influence’…


…but rather for us (and the teachers) to teach the children how to critically analyze and question everything that they come across so that they will be empowered to decide for themselves about what is best for them…including the choice of friends whom they want to keep company with.


Here’s the moment of truth…….can you think of other ways that we are ‘sheltering’ our children from the evils of this world? Just take a moment to think about it…….do we punish them for things they shouldn’t do?…..or do we use it as teachable moments to get them to question between what’s right and wrong?

I’d LOVE to hear from you! Share your ideas in the comments section below:)



Hit Like or Share and comment below