From Potty Training to Potty-Mouthed Teens; 12 Solutions for Bad Language

I remember being so incredibly excited when my children said their first words. Finally, we were going to be able to communicate with each other! I wouldn’t have to guess needs and wants anymore because they could tell me. Soon one word became fifty, and then fifty became hundreds, and unfortunately not all of those words have been cute little ones like kitty cat, please or thank you.

As our kids grow, it’s our job to set an example and limitations and to make sure they understand the power of the words they use, both negative and positive.

Here are 12 solutions for dealing bad language as a parent, whether your kids are two and just learning to talk or twelve and mastering the art of pushing your buttons.

12 Look Inward

When very little kids, aged two to four, are swearing it’s usually because they’re repeating words that they’ve heard. Don’t worry about the insults slung, as they don’t really mean what they’re saying because they don’t understand the definition of the word they’re saying. Think about who they spend the most time with, and who has likely been inadvertently teaching them all of those “50 cent words”. 

Likely sources for learning bad language are parents, siblings, peers, other caregivers, or TV. Most people try their best to avoid swearing in front of kids, but they’ll still pick up on things said, whether it’s the content on prime time TV, a phone conversation or when you stub your toe. Pay close attention to what you and others are saying and give everyone involved a heads up about recent colorful language so everyone can take note and clean up their act too.

11 Take Their Age into Consideration

Dealing with a random swear word from a toddler is different than dealing with an older child or teenager. For little children sometimes ignoring the word or redirection is enough to cure the bad word, or words from their regular vocabulary. For older children you’ll probably want to take a more hands-on approach by addressing and talking about colorful language in a productive way.

10 Don’t Overreact to the Bad Language

This applies to both big and little kids. If you react boldly to bad language, your child knows that they’ve gotten a rise out of you. This means that they will likely repeat the word whenever they’re looking to get a reaction or attention. Negative reactions will just keep the bad behaviour going. A good rule for little kids is to ignore the bad word, but not the child. For really little kids you can ignore the word and move on, for slightly older kids (who understand that they’ve said a bad word) you can implement other punishments, like time-outs, and then move on, not focusing on the misdemeanor once they’ve done their time.

9 Don’t Laugh

It can be funny and surprising to hear big people cuss words come out of a toddler's mouth, but try to stop yourself from laughing. Kids, particularly little ones, love to make their parents laugh and if your little one sees that they got a chuckle they’ll be sure to add their swear word number to regular rotation on their stand-up routine.  

8 Don’t Take it Personally

If you are dealing with the emotions of a toddler, pre-schooler, or limit testing teen, remember to keep your cool and not take the bad words to heart. A random swear word from your four-year-old isn’t going to turn them into a juvenile delinquent, but you’ll want to nip swearing or disrespectful language, or swearing as name calling, in the bud, no matter how old your kid is. Sudden, disrespectful behavior from a teenager is probably just a sign of adolescence and a way that teens push away from their parents on their path to growing up, or to showcase their “maturity”. 

The best approach is to tell them that what they are saying is unacceptable, and then disengage and walk away. If your teen or tween swears under their breath, tell them that you heard what they said, remind them that they shouldn’t swear, and then move on.

7 Make Sure They Understand What the Word Means

Is your child old enough to understand an explanation of what the swear word they’ve been using means? Make sure they know what they’re saying. You can either explain to them what the word means, or have them look it up in a dictionary. Your children should be building their vocabulary, with both academic and “extracurricular” word choices.

6 Consider How the Swear Word is Used Before Reacting

Did they stub their toe and call out a curse word, or are they name calling? People bullying other people by using swear words or other insults is unacceptable, as is the use of derogatory terms for any race, religion or sexual orientation. To put an end to name calling in your home make sure that you are modelling conflict resolution in a way you want your child to repeat. This means no name calling in your interactions with your spouse, peers, or children. When your child starts name calling, remind them that name calling is unacceptable in your house, and be sure to give one warning for repeat infractions before punishments for name calling.

5 Correct Guests

This also comes down to modelling. If you have a guest, even if it’s their grandpa, make sure that you correct them when they use bad language. This will set the tone for the language rules within your house. Most people are understanding that you’re trying to set an appropriate example of acceptable language for your children and will quickly fall into line.

4 When You Curse, Apologize

We all slip up and say something inappropriate in front of our kids from time to time. I’m most guilty of this when I’ve been cut off in traffic. No matter what the source of your frustration is, be sure to apologize when you swear in front of your kids. Of course, it’s better not to swear in front of them at all, but by acknowledging you’ve said something that you shouldn’t, your kids will appreciate that you’re setting the same standards for yourself that you expect from them. At the very least they’ll start apologizing when they let one slip in front of you or other adults.

3 Teach Other Swear Alternatives

Just because you’ve put a ban on swear words in your house doesn’t mean that you’re taking away the ways people express disappointment, or pain when they whack their elbow. Teach and model swear word alternatives that will meet all of your expletive needs. Who doesn’t want the opportunity to yell out “Corn Nuts!!” at the top of their lungs when they accidentally knock that cup of tea all over their paperwork?

2 Get Them to Know Their Audience

Teach your children the importance of knowing their audience. Swearing in front of authority figures such as teachers, grandparents, parents of friends etc. is a much bigger offence than, say swearing in your bedroom when you realize you forgot to do your homework assignment. This will help them form better relationships and conflict resolution with important members of their community like teachers, supervisors, or even their peers.

1 Start a Swear Jar

If swearing has become a big problem in your house, or on the schoolyard, consider setting fines for each family member when they utter a forbidden swear word. Money collected in the jar can go towards a family activity, like a trip to an amusement park, or a worthy cause.

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