I hate to break it to you, but if your sweet and innocent child starts blurting expletives the chances are they heard them from you. As parents we are our children’s role models. This feels quite a heady privilege until you observe your child exhibiting some of your less desirable behaviours. Role modelling is a warts-and-all role. Time to embrace your mini-mirror. And watch yourself like a hawk.
‘What?!’ I hear you cry. ‘But I NEVER swear – they must have picked it up at school/nursery/from little Johnny down the road!’ Well maybe. But probably not. Parental self-denial where swearing is concerned is very common. I recall one stressful Sunday afternoon mid-winter when our car broke down in the middle of nowhere. It was sleeting outside. My five year old girl suddenly decided she needed an urgent poo. My two year old boy had a nappy explosion. And my other half announced the mobile was back home next to the coffee pot.
Before I knew it the words were out of my mouth ‘For F***’s Sake!’
My girl giggled. And farted in excitement. Then my boy grinned and, post nappy-and-entire-wardrobe-change, spent the next hour bouncing in his car seat gleefully chanting ‘Fur Say!’ ‘Fur Say!’ Oops. But it wasn’t me – honest.
I think it’s amazing how small children can apparently be deaf when being called to clean their teeth, and yet have a radar so finely tuned and sensitive to picking up swear words that GCHQ (the UK’s intelligence listening post) are already prepping their recruitment pack. Kids have a sixth sense for naughty words. As parents we have a responsibility to keep a lid on our own swearing habits if we are to help our children learn about appropriate language. The odd slip is inevitable, but an awareness of the sensitivity of little ears is vital if we are to avoid bringing up a generation of foul-mouthed kids.
Why Do Kids Swear?
All joking aside, if your child has taken to swearing, wherever it had come from, then it’s time to act. The reasons behind the swearing can vary and include:
- Attention seeking
- To fit-in and impress school friends
- As an assertion of their own personality and right to choose how they speak
- They are simply mimicking what they hear
Understanding the reason behind it is half the battle, and allows you to prepare a counter-attack that is appropriate and effective.
Your Battle Plan
- Be Honest – If your child is swearing because you’ve slipped up and sworn yourself, there are two things you can do. With younger children either ignore their behaviour or distract from it with a silly rhyming chant that places emphasis on other words. For children over 5 it will be necessary to acknowledge the error of your ways, and explain that your outburst was inappropriate and disrespectful, making sure your child knows it was unacceptable.
- Establish Consequences for Older Kids – Decide in advance how you want to tackle the swearing and follow through every single time. It may be a time-out, a removal of privileges, a fine, or any other consequence you feel will get the message across. Be sure to explain each time to your child why they are being punished in this way, and remind them that swearing is not acceptable. They will get it eventually.
- Understand the Emotion Behind the Words – Some childhood swearing is simple repetition. In other cases there may be an underlying emotion for which the swearing is an outlet. If you think this may be the case it is important to show your child more appropriate ways to release these emotions. Give them the tools to help themselves and guide them on how to use them. One technique that works well with my daughter when she is mad is to take herself to her room and punch it out on her pillow. It’s a great tension reliever for her on the odd occasion she needs it, and is a safe, private and effective way for her to express the strong emotions she is dealing with at that point. Importantly, it is an appropriate alternative to swearing.
- Discuss Alternatives – Replacing swear words with harmless funny words is a great tool for younger kids. ‘Flippy-flop!’ instead of the ‘F’ word, or ‘Sugarbug!’ for the ‘S’ word, for example. Encouraging your children to learn how to express themselves verbally in more appropriate ways will equip them to manage their emotions later in life. Take time to communicate with your children about how they are feeling whenever you can.
Swearing is a phase that most children pass through unscathed. Not sure the same can be said of the parents whose nerves may be frazzled as a result, but with kindness, understanding, firmness and patience this, too, will pass.