Usually we find out our children have learned a new curse word while we are sitting at dinner with friends or family ~ as they accidentally spill their drink on the table they smile and blurt out sh–! Aghast, we may giggle nervously; turn red faced and point our finger at them telling them that’s not an appropriate word to say. We avoid asking them where they heard it because deep down we already know – and as they attempt to defend themselves they naturally blurt out “well, Daddy said it yesterday when he stubbed his toe on the door!” Now, not only are you embarrassed in front of your company but you are completely mortified worrying that everyone at the table must think you are a lousy and irresponsible parent! No worries, there are definitely bigger fish to fry than this one!
Once children learn any of the plethora of superlatives that grown ups say in their presence, it can undoubtedly leave us wondering what in the world we can do to stop our kids from swearing. Largely whether they continue to do it or not is based upon our reaction to the situation. At the age of 3 or 4, a little kid who uses a curse word in the proper context is obviously just mirroring something that they have heard, they are not being bad. If we laugh and hold our bellies, fall on the floor or rush to the phone to share it with friends because we think it is just the cutest (although wrong) thing we have every heard; chances are they will continue to say it; if for nothing else the reaction (seemingly positive) from us. If our first response is to chastise them for saying the word and explain to them that it is not nice for a child their age to say – regardless of who taught it to them (and we all know who that probably was) than they will file it under their slowly growing ‘negative behavior’ folder in their minds.
Children are definitely sponges and as they begin to explore words and phrases that they hear in the world, whether they be from parents, friends or television they will surely pick up swear words. It seems silly to punish them for saying them at first although the message should be very clear that it is not desirable behavior. As they learn to know better, they will do better and avoid the words altogether. It is very difficult for an adult to explain to a pre-school child that some things are okay for adults and not for children and probably this bridge should not even be breached when it comes to bad language. If they continue to say them despite your explanation and expectation than proper punishment should be enforced. This does not mean sticking a bar of Dial soap in their mouth (gross and mean) in the hopes that they will remember in the future just how undesirable cussing is.
As soon as kids enter school they then become privy to the conversations and language learned in houses all across your community. No doubt some brave and rambunctious kindergartner will begin to say the words on the playground or in the bathroom and they will come home either saying them themselves or asking you what they mean. Again, your reaction is pivotal to whether or not your children will swear. The older they get -elementary to middle school they should be able understand that bad language breaches congruent expectations of respect and will just not be stood for in the home or otherwise. If they can understand this and as parents our message is clear you will not be faced with how to stop your kids from swearing; because they wont be comfortable doing it .
For the other half of society whose children occasionally throw in the swear words or speak to their friends (older kids) in ways that make us cringe it is probably best to continue preaching the fact that swear words are just not proper. If they use them with other kids their age and you over hear them, ignore it! The goal is being able to teach our children that certain situations call for specific behavior. As long as they are not talking to other adults or teachers, not using them in school or in public places than obviously they understand the message. Using them privately with their friends is a rite of passage into teen hood and although we may not agree with it ~ there are certainly much more important things to worry about.
Probably the easiest way to stop your kids from swearing is to be diligent about not using the words yourself. This means that when a jack— pulls out right in front of you almost causing you to wreck as you are taking them to soccer practice – you bite your lip, HARD! Although I don’t buy into the theory that children will always turn out just like their parents or do things simply because their parents do; it does make sense that if they hear something constantly at home it will begin to urge complacency on their part and they will quickly forget that it is wrong. This will seep into their growing years. The biggest mistake with allowing children to swear at home is that it can heighten the chances that a word or two will slip out of their mouths at school when they drop their milk carton on the floor in the middle of the cafeteria. Damn that spilled milk!
If you are faced with the situation of having to take action to stop your kids from swearing than use some of more gentle tactics. Make them (and you for that matter) ante up in a jar every time they are caught saying a word. You will be surprised how fast quarters add up! Implement a punishment that every 2 swear words equal an extra chore or a half hour lost of television or Nintendo time. Move up bedtime every time they curse. Little kids can do well sitting in time outs for bad language so that the signal is very clear from a young age just how you feel about bad words.
In the scope of parenting cussing is more of an annoyance. As society progresses more and more words are being okayed for prime time television and most people are more relaxed about their language as a whole. That being said, I can say for sure that well mannered and respectable people are not the ones we see throwing fits and cussing inside Wal-mart. Even though as a teen I carefully crafted the art of ‘cool’ swearing I grew up and rarely do now. (Unless it’s really necessary) After all these years I still don’t feel right using bad language in front of my folks or in-laws or with people that I don’t know very well and I certainly try to curb my words when the kids are watching (which they always are). It is much easier to teach children to not swear from the beginning, than it is to figure out ways to stop them from swearing down the road. If they catch you saying a word the best thing to do is deny you said it and quickly make up another harmless word that sounds similar. My children still walk around calling people they don’t like a ‘sass’ which is much better than what it was I really said!