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Potty Mouth! What to do when your child swears.

Adult girl swearing little girlEvery family reacts differently to swearing. Some parents never swear themselves, and will tolerate no curse words from their children. Other parents are more relaxed and only freak out about the reaaaally bad words. Some parents swear like truckers themselves but get mad at their kids when they swear too.

The truth is, swearing is a perfectly normal part of development in children. They are natural mimics, so they will try out words they hear from family members or on TV or in movies…especially the words that seem to get a big rise out of people.

Personally, it always amuses me to see kids and their endless fascination with swear words. I remember driving with my two youngest one day when I overheard the following conversation:

“I know what the F word is,” Georgia said.

 “You do?” Angus replied. “What is it?”

 “It’s ‘stupid’”, Georgia said.

I had no choice but to laugh, and I also pointed out to her that stupid does not start with an F.

I believe the more of a big deal you make about swear words, the more tempted your child will be to let them fly. That said, it’s not o.k. for kids to go around dropping the F-bomb all over the place either.

So how do you strike the perfect balance?


1. React calmly

One day when I was teaching Grade One, we were writing down all the words that rhyme with truck (can you see where this is going?). After we were done, one of the sweetest little girls in the room came up to my desk and said with a mischievous grin, “I know another word that rhymes with truck.” You can guess what word she told me. I just calmly smiled back and said, “You’re right, but do you think I should add that word to the board?” She looked embarrassed and shyly said, “No.” I sent her back to her desk and that was the end of the discussion. I didn’t try to shame her or make her feel bad for saying it, and I didn’t make a big deal out of it.


2. Don’t call swear words “bad words”

Swear words are not necessarily bad, they are just not appropriate for children to use. Calling them adult words or grown-up words takes some of the mystery out of it. If your child swears, tell him calmly that those are grown-up word and may only be used by adults. Kids are not stupid, and they hear adults swear all the time. In their minds, if the words are so bad, why would Mommy use them when someone cuts her off on the freeway, or Daddy when he burns his hand on the stove? _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

3. Use a consequence

Only use this step if you really feel like you’ve got a problem on your hands. Using the occasional swear word to get a rise out of you is not a big issue. However, if your three-year-old sounds like a little sailor and every second word out of his mouth is a curse, you might want to do something about it before he offends the sweet little old lady in the doctor’s office or your neighbor or his preschool teacher. There’s a simple solution: just use a time-out for every swear word. Stay calm and consistent and this should put a stop to the behavior.

But if your child is just trying it out once in a while, try to let it go. There are far worse things than a little swear word once in a while.


KIDS: The Manual for ParentsHowever, if you’re struggling a little bit with your child’s swearing — or other parts of their behavior like tantrums, fighting with siblings, etc. — then head on over to Kids: The Manual. It’s a great resource for parents with kids ages 2 – 12!

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