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Shittake Mushrooms! How to handle when children swear

Author GreatDad Writers
Submitted 28-05-2015

No matter how much you try to shelter your child, they'll probably have the vocabulary to curse like a proverbial sailor sooner than you might have thought. Between television, music, and just being in public, "bad language" is everywhere.

This isn't a fatherhood lecture, so whether or not you think cursing is acceptable is your choice. Still, there are probably times when you'd prefer your five-year-old child didn't end a conversation with "F*** you"  – like when they meet your boss for the first time.

So how do you deal with it?

Avoid overreacting

When you hear that first four-letter work come out, your first fatherly reaction is probably to lay the hammer down, but that might actually have a negative effect. If your child realizes that they can use that word to get you upset, odds are they'll do it whenever they want to get into an argument.

If you don't let the words have that kind of power, then they probably won't be used against you.

Identify the source

Once the initial situation has passed, have a discussion about where your child heard the word in the first place. Odds are – even if you were trying to watch your language – they probably heard it from Mom or Dad. So if that's the case, learn to self-monitor what you say a little bit better.

If they heard it from somewhere else, address that however you feel comfortable. Whether that's adjusting some parental controls on the television, or having a conversation with some other parents, you need to address it at the source.

Define the boundaries

Once you understand the situation, it's important to have a conversation with your child about swearing. Talk to them about where and when people use those words, and why they aren't good to say all the time.

Give them alternative words to use instead of the "naughty ones", and encourage them to use their new expressions instead.

Create appropriate consequences

While you don't want to overreact to cursing, you also don't want to just encourage it. So set up defined consequences for when your child breaks the rules. You can give them extra chores, or set up a swear jar that they need to contribute to (25 or 50 cents per word is probably enough). Expect your child to call you out if they catch you swearing, however, and pay the penalty to avoid sending mixed signals.

If you're assigning chores, choose ones that aren't normally a part of your child's normal to-do list. If just doing their normal chores is a punishment, then you're sure to hear a "But I didn't do anything wrong" response the next time you ask them to do them.

How do you feel about swearing? Do you try to insulate your kids from it, or redirect them?