The Scene: A 7-year-old girl and her new adoptive mommy are sitting on the carpet, playing Jenga in their pajamas. Puppies are sleeping on the couch nearby. Mommy is thinking of getting up to take a shower, when the little girl says…
Squirrel: Mommy, what does it mean when someone puts their middle finger up?
Me: (buying time and letting go of my plan to shower) Good question. Where did you see someone do that?
Squirrel: Before I moved to Oakland.
Me: Oh, okay. (remembering to validate) I’m so glad you asked. It means something rude. The F-word. Do you know what that is?
Squirrel: Can I really say it?
Me: Yes. We get to talk about the real mean words people say.
Me: (trying not to smile) Right. That is one F-word that is disrespectful.
Squirrel: What’s another one?
Me: (with a calm, matter-of-fact tone) It’s fuck. Or fucking. Or fuck you. That’s what it means when someone puts the middle finger up. It’s disrespectful and rude to do. I don’t want to see you do that okay?
Squirrel: (getting creative) Not even to my blocks?
Me: Not even to your blocks.
Squirrel: What is the S-word?
Squirrel: What is the H-word?
Squirrel: What is the D-word?
Squirrel: What is the I-word?
Me: I don’t know of a rude word that starts with I. Do you?
Squirrel: Nope. Is there a Z-word?
Me: Not that I know of.
Me: (making eye contact with Squirrel) The reason we don’t say these words is because they are hurtful and mean. But I always want to know if you hear kids or grown-ups saying these words you have my permission to say the truth about what you hear. You can share the whole story and use the real words when you talk to me about them. Okay?
Squirrel: Okay, Mommy. Wanna play Jenga?
And…. Scene. This really happened. Exactly like this. She got to be curious and test whether or not I would tell her the truth. I got to build trust that hard conversations don’t scare me. And most importantly, I got to communicate part of our family safety plan: that mean words and verbal attacks are not safe. As her parents, we want to know about them so we can help and so that there are no secrets in our family.