What to Do if Your Kid Swears

Bad words are everywhere and it should come as no surprise that these are the favorite words of our children. Swear words very easy to learn, since they’re usually said with enough emotional force to stand out in a conversation. Tiny tots are sometimes encouraged to swear, by grownups who think it’s cute. Older kids are sometimes encouraged to swear by older kids and media stars who make swearing seem cool.

Cuss words are just part of the vocabulary these days but having a reputation as a potty-mouth doesn’t endear a child to many adults. Your child’s teachers or grandparents might object, and the parents of other children might avoid your child because she is just too vulgar. If your child swears and curses, you’ve probably been in a situation where what came out of your kid’s mouth embarrassed you greatly.

But what can you do? If swear words are everywhere, how can you clean up your darling child’s vocabulary?

 1.      If your child is very little, now is the time to mend your own speech and the speech of those around him. Your friends and relatives – and even you – might be more free with the curse words than any of you were as kids.  Give your own child the more protectedenvironment you grew up with. Set some rules about what can be said in front of your child.

2.      Don’t encourage naughty language in your kids. What’s cute at age two or three will be a problem when she goes to preschool. Don’t set your child up for punishment by teaching words now that will get her into trouble later. When your older child says words you don’t approve, say something, don’t just let it slide.

3.      Set standards for language during play dates at your home. You don’t need to be the Language Police but children are quite good at adjusting to the rules in a new situation. If you firmly discourage bad words among your child’s friends when they’re in your home, kids will go along with your requirements.

4.      Assume that the kid who swears doesn’t know any better. Instead of punishing a child for saying bad words, teach her what is offensive and even acceptable words to say instead.

5.      Teach older children to adapt to time and place. Kids ages 9 and older can learn to differentiate between what they say and do around their friends and what they say and do in school, when older adults are around, or in Sunday School. Instead of requiring that they never ever say a particular word, tell them that you never want to hear it coming from their mouth or never want to hear it in front of Grandma or never want to hear about it in a teacher conference. Knowing how to manage different social situations is a valuable skill and your older kid can learn this.

6.      If swearing is habitual in your home but you’d like it to stop, then call a family meeting and work out a solution. You might consider instituting a penalty jar (a quarter deposited for every bad word someone says) or in some other, reasonable way that’s appropriate for everyone. Notice that everyone is included here, grownups as well as children. Where do you think they learned such language, after all?

7.      Monitor media. This is not to say that your kids can only watch G-rated movies but it does mean that the media your children consume has an effect. Know what messages are being communicated in the media your children, especially your older children, are experiencing. Talk about this with your kids. Your silence is a signal of your approval, including approval of the words people say to each other.

Speaking is an essential social skill but a complicated one. It includes not just the speaker but the listener too, and also the context, the situation, in which speech is shared. Helping your child know how to choose appropriate words and adapt a message to fit present company is part of this social learning.

Teach your child how to do this and you’ll help your child be welcome wherever she goes.