Hearing swear words coming from your child’s mouth can be upsetting. More astonishing may be that those first swear words your young child utters were learned on the home front.
It can be a shocking moment to hear your own, sweet, innocent child lacing her conversation with a few select swear words, especially if you were under the impression that this language couldn’t possibly be a part of her vocabulary. But as we know, children are like sponges, meaning they’ll pick up all sorts of phrases if they hear them, which is why so many children use their first swear word when they’re still very young.
Child Psychologist Dr. Joanne Briggs says “swearing and bad language usually comes before age six, and you either totally ignore it or say, ‘that’s not acceptable, we don’t talk that way.’
If your child does swear what should you do? Sometimes when a child is very young the temptation is to laugh – after all it can seem quite precocious. However, laughing will only encourage the use of foul language. On the other hand, punishment isn’t necessary either. Dr Briggs says you shouldn’t “make a big thing out of it. Just simply say ‘we don’t talk like that here’. But then parents must ensure that they don’t talk that way. Often parents lose sight of their own language and some of this is being modeled at home. The model is probably the most important.”
Of course young children parroting a parent is one thing. But older children who use foul language are well aware of the meaning of the words and the impact they have. So how do you deal with the older child who swears? Dr. Briggs believes that “if they’re older children, swearing and trying to shock, you should simply say “I don’t like that. I can’t do anything about how you talk away from me but when you’re with me I’d prefer you not to talk like that and if you have to talk like that, I’d prefer that you go someplace else to do it.”
So gone are the days of grounding or washing a child’s mouth out with soap. Instead you best insurance is to model good language on the home front, and to be clear about how you feel about inappropriate language with your child.