DEAR HARRIETTE: I baby-sit for the child next door, and he seems to be growing up quickly. This little boy, "Jake," curses like a sailor! Jake is 6 years old. I am not sure if it is his parents who use this type of language around him, or if he picks it up in school. As soon as his parents leave, he speaks in a slew of four-letter words. Jake even asks me what these words mean. I pretend not to know them, but he says, "all grown-ups know what they mean."
I feel like I'm in over my head. I'm not going to tell Jake the meaning of the bad words, but confronting his parents makes it seem like they've raised a rowdy child. Should I just hope this passes over? I would feel pretty embarrassed around my neighbors if they thought I was accusing them of teaching their young son these words. -- No Potty Mouth, Dallas
DEAR NO POTTY MOUTH: For starters, you can point out to Jake that he knows those words should not be used. Without explaining their exact meanings, you can tell him that they are rude and mean and can be hurtful when spoken. Tell him that people often say them when they are angry or upset, and point out that there are better words to use at those times. Have fun with him and make up a funny word or phrase that he can use when feeling upset, like "fiddlesticks" or "bumblehead" or anything silly.
Also speak to his parents. It is your duty as his baby sitter to report to them that he has been experimenting with profanity. Tell them you don't know the source, but you thought they should know. You can also tell them whatever word you two made up as a replacement.