It’s a shock when your sweet and innocent little child says their first curse word – most of us are flabbergasted!
We don’t know what to do to stop them from blurting out swear words at often the most embarrassing times. Here are some quick tips for taming your child’s “potty mouth.”
1. Practice what you preach. Children are going to mimic what they hear adults say. If you don’t want your child to swear, you need to model that behavior. No swearing in front of the kids.
2. Correct yourself. I know parents will use the occasional swear word with a child present. When this happens, you should quickly correct yourself and apologize. You can give yourself a mini time-out so your child learns there is a price for having a “potty-mouth” – even for adults.
3. Don’t overreact. Small children are developing their communication skills. They will try out any new word they hear. However, if they learn that cursing gets a great deal of attention and time spent with their parents, they will definitely do more of it. Your correction should be as simple as ignoring it or having your child redo their statement without swearing.
4. Stop the chronic cursing. If your school-age child repeatedly uses curse words, try to determine why and when they are most likely to curse. Then make the appropriate changes. Start by sitting down and talking with your child about why they curse. Have them think and write down ways to stop cursing in the future. Prompts can be help to curve chronic cursing.
5. Don’t be amused. Some parents inadvertently encourage their child’s cursing with laughter, nervous giggling, smiles or even hugs. When your little one blurts out an appalling curse word (that may seem hilarious at the time), you should turn your back or look away from your child. Ignoring is better than encouraging them with your amusement.
6. Anger fuels cursing. When children are angry they may use cursing as a tool. When your child is too upset to correct their behavior, you should remember but not address their cursing right away. WAIT. You can use tokens and a swear jar to keep track of curse words. When your child is calm enough to cooperate, have him or her do the required behavior (acts of kindness, chores, etc.,) to remove the swear tokens from the jar before he can get back to the fun things in life. Older kids will learn to cut back on their swearing to avoid the swear jar.
7. Their friends curse! Kids are more likely to pick up cursing up at home, but their friends can be a big influence on the words that slip out of our children’s mouths when we aren’t around. You cannot control every word your child utters. If an older child decides to curse in your presence give a meaningful and immediate consequence then move on.
8. Context, context, context. Parents should consider the context that the curse word was used. Sometime $#@! happens! A burned hand or stubbed toe can cause an unintended curse word to occur. If your child corrects their own behavior and seems genuinely sorry, accept their apology and their alternative statement to swearing.
9. Expand your child’s vocabulary. If your child is cursing, give them the task to find other words that can help them express their emotions and thoughts without cursing. They learned to curse, so they should be able to learn to use other words to expand their vocabulary!
Bridget Barnes works with Boys Town’s Family Services Research and Development department. She helped create the evidence-based Common Sense Parenting program.