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How To Discipline A Child For Swearing?

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Do you remember the first swear word or taboo word your child used? A child as young as five may experiment with foul language just for the thrill of watching parents react horrified. And by age eight, the child may know as many as 54 undesirable words, which may further transform into more offensive ones when they reach their tween years (1).

As a parent, it can be a nightmarish and embarrassing situation when your child swears, especially if they do it when guests are over or at a neighbor’s house.

Teaching your child the importance of using respectful language is not a simple task, but knowing a few practical tips and disciplinary steps can help you.

Read on as we tell you the possible reasons behind children swearing and give you a few tips on handling swearing in children.

Why Do Children Swear?

Before you think of disciplining the child for using a nasty taboo word, step back and try to identify what provoked them to use it. This helps you take appropriate measures to help them kick the swearing habit. Here are some of the most common reasons behind children using taboo language.

1. Venting anger or frustration

Children often go through phases where they are unable to get a grip on strong emotions such as anger or frustration (2). When they lose their cool, they often resort to venting strongly without realizing what they are saying.

2. Trying to fit into a group

A surprisingly common reason behind children using bad language is peer pressure. As they get older, children are influenced heavily by what their peers are doing. If they are in a group that swears a lot, the child feels that they must do the same to fit in or be accepted.

3. Provoking reaction

Smaller children often use offensive language to get a reaction out of their parents. This could be their way of showing that they are yearning for attention. Some children, on the other hand, might enjoy watching the shock on people’s faces and being the center of attention for those few minutes. They may not understand that attracting attention for the wrong reasons is not desirable.

4. Showing a strong reaction

A child might use offensive language as a rebellious means to demonstrate how strongly they feel about something, such as when you ask them to do something they do not like.

5. Imitating people around them

In some cases, the child may be imitating others, especially elders and people around them. If one of the parents or older siblings or caregivers uses foul language often, the child might repeat what they hear. 

How To Talk To Kids About Swearing

Young children often use inappropriate language without knowing what the words mean to get instant attention, while older children may think swearing is ‘cool.’ Pre-teens and teens, on the other hand, know what the words mean and use them consciously. These differences mean that you should tweak your ‘talk’ about their language, factoring in their age and exposure.

Keep the following points in mind while talking to them about why swearing is not okay.

1. Who is listening to them?

Tell the child to think about who is listening. When they are at school or a wedding, the way they talk has to be more respectful than when they are talking to their close friends. They should refrain from using inappropriate language with people who are not of their age group at all costs. Relaxing the rules slightly when they are with peers helps give them some flexibility.

2. How hurtful is it to others?

Profanities can be hurtful to the recipient, and racial or gender slurs can leave lasting scars on those targeted. Point out to your child that what may seem to be a spur-of-the-moment expletive for them may have far-reaching consequences for others.

3. What does it say about them?

Communicate to your child that offensive language is not cool and that it makes people disdainful of them. Point out that foul language discourages people from coming up and talking to them. 

Tips To Prevent Children From Swearing

While it is important for you to discipline your child when they use taboo language, you should also do what is necessary to prevent it from happening again. Here are some practical tips you could employ.

1. Teach them how to handle anger and frustration

Teach your child to deal with anger or frustration healthily. Maybe they can scream or yell and vent out their emotions in a designated room or do some rigorous exercise to calm themselves down. You can also help them express their emotions with appropriate words. For instance, they could say, “I am really angry right now, “I don’t like what is happening” — these are reasonable ways for them to express what they feel without using swear words.

2. Teach them to be respectful

A little child is still learning the concepts of empathy and respect. Ask them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and think about how they would feel if they were on the receiving end of foul language. Explain to them that they have to respect others to receive it in return.

3. Explain how they have a choice

Use real-life situations or TV shows or books to discuss how their favorite character would have handled the situation without resorting to swearing. Tell the child that everyone has a choice in how they react. They have the choice to act calmly, control their language, and ensure that they do not put people off or curse, abuse, and drive people away.

4. Set good standards

You are your child’s favorite role model. Pay attention to your own language, avoid offensive language, and use acceptable substitute words when you feel like swearing. For example, “Oh, fish” is quite the inoffensive alternative to the four-letter swear word.If you end up using foul language, apologize immediately, and tell your child it is not something you are proud of doing, even inadvertently.

5. Explain your family rules

Your child may encounter peers swearing occasionally with no consequence. This can confuse them about why you come down so hard when they do it. Explain to them that different families have different rules and certain words are not acceptable in yours.

6. Limit exposure

Identify the sources of bad language they are exposed to. If it is another adult who frequently uses foul language, talk to them and get them to stop doing it when the child is nearby. If your child is learning it from shows or books, try to bring in interesting alternatives that do not pose this risk. Monitoring what the child watches, reads, or listens to is a good pre-emptive move.

7. Praise them when they restrain themselves

Positive reinforcement works beautifully here. When your child responds to bad language or swear words without resorting to the same, praise them and tell them how proud you are of them for maintaining control. If they get through a situation that previously had them swearing without letting any bad language slip, let them know you noticed and are proud of them. 

How To Discipline A Child For Swearing

Despite your best efforts, your child may get into the habit of using inappropriate language. This is when you should use these disciplining tips to gain control of the situation.

1. Set clear boundaries

Your child should know what they can or cannot say. Make sure you set clear boundaries. This will be an ongoing process, as the child learns and uses new swear words or comes up with offensive terms on their own. For example, you can tell them that they can use funny words to vent out but not common swear words. Add new words to the “unacceptable” list as and when they use them. In time, the child will understand what is appropriate and what is not in your home.

2. Tone down your reaction

Some children might use swear words to provoke an intense reaction from parents. Thus, you should stay calm when disciplining the child. Do not let the child’s cursing get under your skin, and do not show that you are irritated by it. Avoid overreacting and treat it in a matter-of-fact manner so that the child quickly loses interest in using foul language as a means to get attention.

3. Provide rewards

Any good disciplining strategy should have rewards built into it. Rewarding them whenever they overcome the urge to swear or correct themselves or apologize may work well. Keep the rewards small, and eventually, explain to the child why being respectful is the desirable thing to do, irrespective of whether they are rewarded.

4. Suggest alternatives

When you catch them swearing, stop them and immediately suggest substitutes they can use instead. Involve them in making a list of alternative words that they are allowed to use without restriction. This can include funny words — words similar to swear words but meaning something harmless.

5. Provide consequences

Disciplining works when actions have consequences. Let the child know that swearing will attract consequences. Make sure the consequence is in proportion with the child’s mistake. To do this, factor in the child’s age and the situation in which they used bad language. For example, when the child uses a swear word after stubbing their toe hard, the consequence may be less harsh than when they use the word for another child who wanted to play with their toy.

6. Don’t give in to swearing

No matter how embarrassed you are or how much the habit of swearing worsens, do not give in. Ifthe child gets their waywhen they swear, they will try the same strategy when they need something from you

7. Set ground rules

Ground rules about swearing that apply to the whole household make it easy for the child to understand what is allowed and what is not. The fact that everyone follows it tells them that they are not being mistreated.

8. Don’t let it turn into a confrontation

Avoid confronting your child if they are angry or annoyed at something and swearing as a result. Escalating the issue at this point can worsen things and make them more rebellious. End the matter there with a curt reprimand that the behavior is not acceptable. Use consequences, such as time out or no TV. At a later time, when they are calm, discuss it and explain why foul language is not okay and how they are hurting themselves by attracting consequences.

To put an end to your child’s habit of swearing, it is important to ensure they know the rules beforehand so that disciplining falls within an established framework. It is also essential for you to have an environment that is conducive to respectful language. Use these ideas to correct your child’s language quickly and effectively. 

References:

MomJunction's health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. What to do when your child swears; Harvard Medical School
2. Why kids in fourth grade often get angry; Understood For All