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How to Handle Your Child’s Swearing and Cursing

Picture of an Angry CHild

What’s more memorable than your child’s first word? How about their first swear word? Yikes! Talk about embarrassing! At that very moment in time, you’ll be wondering where on earth your child learned such colorful language– and whether they really understand what they’re saying. Did they pick it up at preschool from “that kid” with the potty mouth? At the park with the crazy tweens on the monkey bars? Or…was it at home when Grandpa nicked his finger with a knife and let a five-word award-winning expletive slide?

We know all too well how little people are knowledge-thirsty sponges soaking up every single tidbit they see and hear. So, how exactly does a parent, teacher or guardian deal with such a delicate situation? Is it necessarily a behavioral issue? Well, chances are, how you react to a child’s swearing now will influence his future swearing behavior.

Swearing: Hey, What’s With All the Potty Talk?

If you’re a parent, guardian or teacher in the mood for a funny blog post about this touchy subject, you’ll want to check out leighandmeg.com for their piece entitled KIDS AND SWEARING. These two ladies have a great blog, and most of their posts are really funny. I personally like to hand out extra Cheerios to anyone for writing about toddlerhood in such a humorous light.

What stands out for me in KIDS AND SWEARING are two points I absolutely agree with:

1) “Nothing is worse than a little kid dropping profanities. It’s gauche.”

2) “If an adult hears a kid swearing, a certain amount of judgement and assumption are made against said child.”

Truth be told, over here at my house I’m painfully against swearing. I’m not only talking about the “real” swear words, but I’m also referring to any word that seems demeaning or inconsiderate. That includes words like stupid and fat. Those are MAJOR No-No words at our place. Why do I set the bar so high? Well, as a writer and student of creative writing, I’m a firm believer of words having immense power. The right word can help a person feel love, but the wrong word can make a person feel pain. Bear with me as I wax poetic here, but words have the ability to start, and end, wars. So, as a parent, I feel it is important for me to teach my kids these things, no matter how young they are.

Getting Rid of the F-Bombs: How to Stop Kids from Swearing

Try to Ignore It:

Typically, what is considered to be the most effective way to deal with a child swearing is to ignore the swearing. Don’t draw attention to it. Don’t make eye contact. Often, this is the best way to stop them from swearing if their behavior is primarily attention seeking.

Always Keep It Cool:

Believe it or not, an adult’s reaction to their swearing will influence whether they do swear again. The key is to stay calm. Keeping it cool will go a long way towards preventing any further swearing.

Clarify their Word Choice:

If you see that a child does continue to swear, or if you feel it is a good opportunity to sit them down and teach them about swearing, then try talking to them about their choice of words. Perhaps, as an example, you may consider saying, ‘We don’t use this word because it can upset people’. When it comes to preschoolers, they may not fully comprehend the words they have decided to use, but they can understand the notion that swear words can indeed offend or hurt someone’s feelings.

Clarify Their Pronunciation:

Sometimes, “swearing” happens because a child is trying to say a new word – so instead ‘truck’ and ‘sit’ come out sounding… a little mispronounced, shall we say? In this case, it’s a good idea to just casually and gently correct the child’s pronunciation.

Should Parents Actually Explain What “That Word” Means?

In general, young toddlers and preschoolers don’t necessarily need the full explanation of any swear words that come out of their mouth. That’s because they’re just too young to understand some of the nuances behind the more common swear words. In the end, it’s more than enough to simply say, ‘Please don’t use that word. That is not a nice word to say.’ Sometimes, swear words come out when kids are arguing with each other.

Having said that, you may want to keep in mind that kids over the age of four may require a slightly more in-depth explanation. If you believe that a child may have some understanding of the meaning of a swear word, you can ask them what they think that word means. At this point, you can use general terms to clarify why that chosen word is inappropriate.