Every parent is shocked the day their child lets fly a curse word. You may be out shopping with your two-year-old and get an unexpected response to your “no!”, your six-year-old might get tattled on for name calling, or your ten-year-old may use a profanity in frustration. No matter how old your child is when they first start trying swear words, you will need to stop it. You will, however, need strategies. No matter what their age, however, remember to stay calm and encourage others to do the same—every child loves getting a reaction from mom, dad, or unsuspecting grandparents and you do not want to give them that.
When preschool-aged children try using curse words, they usually have no idea what the words mean or even that they are inappropriate. And that is where you begin.
• Ask your child if they know what the word means. When they say “no”, you can simply tell them they should not be using words they do not know the meaning of, because some words are bad words.
• Explain that it is a bad word and should never be used.
• Help them find a better word to express the emotion they are feeling.
Many children in this age group still do not know the meanings of the words they try out, though they may pretend to.
• Ask your child if they know what the word means. They may say “Of course I do!”—in which case, simply ask them for the definition. If they cannot define it—or they give an incorrect answer—you can choose how much of the definition of that word is appropriate for your own child to know. You can also compare it to a word that they know is not acceptable in your family—and explain that it is worse.
• Your child may try to deflect the issue to that of where they heard the word. Don’t give in to the blame game. Whether it was a babysitter, classmate, older sibling, dad, TV show, or movie, you need to focus the conversation on your child’s use of the word. If necessary, you can consider the source with dad or other caregivers when your child is not present.
Older kids are less likely to find your reasoning persuasive. You are even more likely to hear “All my friends swear!” or “You/dad/grandpa say that all the time!” Again, focus the conversation on your child, not anyone else or finding blame.
• Make it clear that curse words are offensive to many people. Grandparents, teachers, neighbors, friends’ parents, and anyone they interact with regularly is unlikely to be impressed by casual swearing. Help your child recognize that their casual swearing will affect how others look at them. Friends’ parents may not want their child playing or hanging out with your child. Grandparents may be very upset by what they view as poor behavior. Teachers may give detention or demerits for poor language.
• If your child’s swearing has developed into a bad habit, it’s time to bring out the Swear Jar! The Swear Jar is a simple concept—you just need a jar, and a simple sign (it can be a sticky note stuck to the jar!). Every time someone swears, they put a certain amount of money into the jar. It might be a quarter or a dollar (fit it to your child’s budget). Ideally, everyone in the family will participate. Most kids would rather save their money to buy clothes, music, game add-ons, soda, or go to the movies with friends—the swear jar can make for quick changes!
• If your family cannot fit the swear jar into your budget, there are other options. For example, you can assign 10 minutes of extra chores or take away 10 minutes of gaming time for every offense. Time keeping and follow-through on your part become very important—but it can be done!