We’ve all done it: you stub your toe on the corner of the table and mutter a rude word. Your kid’s ears prick up. You realise what you just said; they are bemused and interested at the new language they’ve just discovered. And then, they start repeating the swear word. So what now?
Why kids imitate swearing
Imitation is part of child development; they try out things they have seen or heard others do. Sometimes this is partly down to seeing what reaction they get- not necessarily to provoke or annoy, but often to test out what happens.
Kids see home as their safe place so, in the same way that they often have meltdowns at home, they will test the boundaries of behaviour, too.
How can parents handle swearing?
- The best way to approach a child swearing is to do so calmly. Making too much of a fuss draws unnecessary attention to the issue.
- When the situation has cooled down, you could ask the child why they said the rude word. They may reveal feelings of distress or anger that can be handled in a different way.
- You can then involve your child in finding a better solution- maybe some alternative words to use when frustrated, such as ‘oh flip’, or ‘sugar lumps’. You can also use them yourself- ‘fudge’ is a good alternative to the f word!
- Explain why swear words are not acceptable for children to use, in the same way as how they are polite and behave a certain way in public.
- Make a firm boundary: a simple rule in the home that children do not swear, even if parents sometimes do. It’s helpful to bear in mind, however, that frequent swearing by parents will encourage kids to copy that behaviour.
If your child is using swearing to get attention
This can sometimes occur if adults have laughed at the child swearing previously, or if swearing was made a big deal of before.
Calmly respond by saying ‘that’s not a nice word, and you must not not use it.’
If swearing is continuing, you may need to explain the future consequences that will occur. Perhaps their pocket money might go in a swear jar, or they lose time gaming.
A lack of anger management
Sometimes children who struggle to calm down when upset or angry will use swear words. Getting angry over their poor choice of words may inflame the situation in the moment, so it can help to offer them a ‘time out’- 5-10 minutes of calm and quiet in their room- to enable them to de-escalate their feelings.
Learning to manage feelings of frustration and distress can take some children more time than others, and can last well into the teenager years. When you recognise this repeating difficulty in your child, it can help to have a chat during a calm period to explain why having time outs will help them.
You can even offer to sit outside their bedroom door while they calm down each time. For some children, ‘big feelings’ can be hard to cope with and despite lashing out they’ll actually be needing comforting.