I suspect that every dad of a child over 2 years old has had the experience of hearing a child utter a “bad word” - one that is inappropriate or maybe swearing. I can remember vividly one time when I was in the car with one of my children and a careless driver cut me off in traffic and almost caused an accident. I used a word to describe him in anger that I seldom use. Later that evening, when my child was mad about something, that word came out of his little mouth – and I had some answering to do about where he heard that word in the first place.
Helping our children learn to use appropriate language, whether at home or outside, can be a big challenge – even for a family where swearing is heard often. In our family, that was not the case. Swearing has always been contrary to family rules at our house, but on occasion, emotion gets the better of all of us and we find ourselves saying something inappropriate. But in any case, our kids may hear bad words from others, on the television or even in child-friendly videos.
Inappropriate words don’t just have to be swear words – many families work hard to eliminate words like “stupid” or other names that demean others. Whatever the words your family hopes to not use, it is important to set the ground rules and follow them. Consider these tips for eliminating the use of bad words by your children and to deal with them when they come out of those little (or not so little) mouths.
Set and live the standard. Parents need to define what will be acceptable language in the home and then use it there.
If you don’t want your children to swear, you need to not swear in your own communications at home. I grew up in a law enforcement family, and while I knew that my dad heard swearing all the time on the job, he was very judicious not to swear at home, or even to let emotion overtake him in any home relationship.
If we have a problem with swearing in our regular vocabulary, we need to work to eliminate it all together and certainly to eliminate it at home.
Help find better ways to express emotion. Bad words generally come out in emotional moments – anger, frustration, or just venting. We can teach our kids some anger management techniques like counting to 10 or just thinking through an issue so that they can express their emotions better. We can teach them about I-messages (conveying thoughts starting with “I” like “I feel angry when…”) rather than lashing out at others and running the risk of swearing our name-calling.
Find appropriate replacement words. When I was growing up, there was a popular television show where the key character used the word “blast” rather than inappropriate or swear words when he was frustrated. For many years, that was my “swear word of choice” because it wasn’t a bad word but it let me express frustration. When a child uses a bad word, correct him and remind him to use a word that is not offensive or demeaning.
Don’t overreact. Hearing one of the classic bad words come out of our child’s mouth can be embarrassing or shocking, but it is important not to overreact. For example, if your child uses the “b-word” to describe someone, stop and say something like, “Chris, do you know what that word means? It is a crude word meaning female dog. Saying that word about a person is inappropriate and makes them feel bad. In our family, we don’t use that word. If someone does something that makes you want to call them that, it’s better to say, ‘I feel upset when someone does that to me.’” You don’t need to react angrily or take strong discipline – just teach what is appropriate and what is not and help the child learn a better way to express himself.
Using a few easy tips like these can help you react appropriately when your child says something inappropriate. Make sure that you are reacting as a teacher and that you don’t overreact to something just because you are embarrassed or upset. Consistently working on teaching appropriate language and good management of emotional outbursts will help your child learn to react appropriately in his interactions with others.