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Sh*t! How do I keep my kid from swearing? It happens. We’ve all heard it at some point from a friend’s child, your own toddler who is imitating you, or even from family members who think its funny to make other parents’ child say “frog” which sounds like you know what. Ha. But in all seriousness…how do you get your children ages 2 to 12 to stop cursing?!?

Is your toddler discovering the “power” of language? Amazingly, it doesn’t take kids long to figure out the really important words. Your wonderfully curious toddler has acquired a new and exciting skill. Many times, a child’s first swear word will be the result of direct mimicry; maybe she heard you say it when another driver cut you off in traffic, and now she’s repeating it endlessly in the back seat.

According to Care.com in a national survey, “Eighty-six percent of parents agree that children ages 2 to 12 are cursing more today than when they themselves were children. Fifty-four percent of parents say that their child has cursed in front of them, though 20 percent don’t think the child understood the meaning of the word.”

At its best, swearing is an ineloquent way to express emotions. At its worst, it actually stunts one’s ability to describe emotional experiences. So whether a child hears these f-bombs from you, at school or on TV, it’s important to stop it before it continues.

Here are some tips to help you respond if your child swears:

  • Keep a poker face. The first time your toddler says a swear word or makes a scatological reference, restrain your urge to laugh out loud, which your child would of course take as wonderful reinforcement for doing it again.
  • Watch your own mouth. Sure, there are different rules for adults’ and children’s behavior, but if your toddler hears profanity dropped into daily conversation, it’s going to be a lot harder to convince her that certain words are unacceptable.
  • No matter what age your child is, address it immediately and calmly. For kids age 6 and under, start simple: “No swearing ever.”
  • For older kids, who can think more abstractly, you should explain why swearing is not okay. Your goal is to make sure to help kids express their feelings, to talk and present themselves in the best way.
  • Some parents believe that calling attention to a child’s inappropriate words will only encourage the behavior, so they choose to ignore these transgressions. But how will your child learn that cursing is not okay if you don’t teach him? Ask your child first whether he or she understands the word. If the answer is “no,” explain that the word is offensive, that it affects how others receive you, and that it is not acceptable.
  • When you reprimand your child, he or she might retort, “But I heard you/Daddy say it.” Resist the urge to deny or justify your own swearing. Admit that you also struggle to control what you say. By doing so you won’t create a double standard.
  • Sit down with your child and brainstorm new, non-offensive words or phrases to say when she feels frustrated, upset, or angry. More often than not, children say these words when name-calling. Use this incident to discuss your child’s feelings toward an acquaintance or sibling.
  • If your child has already made a habit of swearing, you need stronger measures to show him that this behavior is not appropriate. Tell him that every time he swears at home, there will be consequences such as no book at bedtime, no video games, no TV, no dessert after dinner (you get the point).
  • Beware of TV and movies – kids do catch every word!

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