It may take you by surprise the first time you hear your child use bad language, but the most important thing to remember is to keep calm and ascertain first the reason behind it. Most of the time, your child could just be testing out new words they had overheard or they may be struggling to express themselves without fully understanding what the term means. How you react now will affect their usage of language in the future, so here are some tips:
1. Establish it can be hurtful
If your child used bad language because he or she is frustrated or angry – don’t correct them on the spot as instinctual as it may be as it could backfire. When they’ve calmed down, tell them that that ‘word’ is not nice and encourage them to say “I’m feeling frustrated/angry” instead as a way of expression. While children may not fully grasp the meaning of bad language, they can understand that certain words can end up being hurtful to others. So, make it clear certain words and terms can result in a negative reaction and they’ll most likely refrain from using it again.
2. Don’t react
Sometimes, children can use bad language as a way of trying to get your attention. If this happens, the best thing you can do is to ignore it. “When kids realise that certain words have power because they get such a response, these words become very attractive,” says James Walsh, associate professor and chair of school psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. He goes on to say that yelling at your child could backfire because all it does is reinforce the idea that such language is alluring to use. Tell your kids that while others may use such language, it is not nice and it is not acceptable at home.
3. Practise what you preach
If you want your child to follow suit, you’ll have to play by the rules as well. It’s important to have this talk with your partner as well so that both of you are on the same page and don’t swear in front of the children. Use substitute words such as “Oh, fudge”. When your kids see that the same rules apply to adults, it will be easier for them to adhere to them.
4. Educate them
Some children may use profanities when describing body parts as they may have heard the term elsewhere and are curious to use it themselves. Ask them calmly where they heard the term and if they understand fully what it means. If the profanity does refer to a body part (a number of curse words are sexual in nature), gently correct them by using the appropriate term you’d like them to use instead. This will help keep your communication lines open so that they know they can come to you in the future should they ever be in doubt or have problems – especially those relating to sexuality.