Learning new words and testing boundaries are important parts of growing up. And with that comes using language that parents especially hate. Kids curse to sound cool or to see how parents will react. But that doesn't mean you have to put up with it. Parenting magazine editor-in-chief Janet Chan was invited on “Today” to share advice on cleaning up your kid's potty mouth.
When attempting to get out and keep out nasty language, there are four tried and true tips for parents.
- Set an example
- Set boundaries
- Give punishments
Set an exampleYounger kids, especially toddlers, pick up most of their language skills by mimicking people. Children begin to absorb language as young as 12 months old, but under normal conditions, it takes several repetitions of a word or an expression before a toddler tries it out on his own.
The best way to teach kids not to use bad language is to set an example by curbing your own vocabulary. But when you accidentally curse in front of a small child, there are steps you can take to lessen the blow.
Backtrack — As soon as the offending word is out of your mouth, replace it with another that's likely to catch those little ears. "Peanut butter!" "Scooby-dooby-doo!" "Sugar-booger!" Anything that's going to sound more fun and interesting. Now is not the time for muttering. Say your replacement word with just as much feeling.
It's rhyme time — Damn it, bam it, slam it, glam it. By taking the offending word out of context and burying it in rhymes, you can take the emphasis off the meaning. This may seem like a means of deliberately confusing your child, but it's harmless and may even be good for him.
And if he does utter a bad word? Turn the other ear. Whether you find it adorable or mortifying to hear a few choice words come out of your toddler's mouth, don't give it the time of day. The less return he gets, the faster these words will drop out of his vocabulary. Resist the urge to laugh, no matter how humorous the situation might be. Most of the time, young children don't even know what the words mean. If it becomes an ongoing problem, however, you need to sit down and have a talk about what's acceptable.
Set boundariesChildren expand their vocabularies as they get older and they'll begin to learn what these words mean, and try to use them in context. With older kids, control what you can. Tell them that inside your walls, in the car, or when you're out together, there is to be no swearing. That means you have to come up with some kind of punishment for when they do it anyway and be sure you follow through on it, whether it's a time-out or the loss of a privilege, like no dessert.
Most importantly, say why it's offensive. Explain that it's not just the words, it's the attitude that cursing conveys. Point out that a swear word sounds angry, even if it’s just used for emphasis. When you watch TV and movies together and there's profanity, talk about it. Would the movie be just as good without the bad language? Remind them that with that kind of mouth, the trash-talker wouldn't be invited to dinner at your house.
You can also give kids other word choices. There is something satisfying about letting a four-letter word rip when you're frustrated or mad, so come up with some acceptable alternatives. Crud, darn and sugar are good staples, but even something like “frog” can work too.
With teenagers, be strict about punishments
Keep in mind that older kids tend to use bad language not only to rebel, but to draw attention away from other actions. So if you lay into your child for missing his curfew, and he skulks away mumbling an expletive, don't shift focus to dealing with his foul mouth right away. Stick to the issue at hand, and deal with his poor choice of words later.
One technique that will make an impact with older kids is a "swearing jar." Pick an appropriate amount of money for your child's age, and have them drop a quarter or a dollar into a jar every time they swear. You can also use this as an effective strategy for repeat offenders to offer a positive reward for going awhile without using offensive language.
What if nothing works?Then it's time to chat. Most of the time, kids are just testing out curse words to see if they can get a reaction from their parents. But if your child's cursing starts to spiral out of control and you notice other problematic behavior, like hitting or excessive crying, it's a sign of a bigger issue. They might be experiencing a problem that they just don't know how to handle. You need to communicate with your child and get to the bottom of what's really bothering them before jumping to any conclusions.