As typically ‘offensive’ language continues to creep into 14A certificate motion pictures, YouTube videos and conversations, children are being increasingly exposed to swear words. Has swearing become so common that even our children in primary school are picking it up? Of course, it isn’t always the media that’s at fault. While admittedly, the F-word can be a useful and effective adjective at times, are more parents using it at the children’s table?
At its best, swearing is an ineloquent way to express emotions. At its worst, it actually stunts someone’s ability to describe their emotional experiences. So whether a child hears these words from you, at school or on TV, it’s important to stop the language before it continues.
What to do if your child swears
- Don’t Overreact
No matter what age your child is, address it immediately and calmly. Children aged 6 and under tend to think in black-and-white terms. Start simply: say “No swearing ever.” Once they realise they said a ‘bad’ word, they will most likely feel shame and remorse. For older children, who can think more abstractly, you should explain why swearing is not okay. Just remember, at some point, every child will swear. Your goal is to make sure you help your children express their feelings, to talk and present themselves in the best way — as well as to set boundaries.
- Nip it in the Bud
Some parents believe that calling attention to a child’s inappropriate words will only encourage the behaviour, so they choose to ignore these transgressions. But Dr. Ludwig encourages parents to respond promptly to such behaviour, observing that “We can’t assume kids know how to act unless we teach them. If you talk to them, they will get the message that there’s a better way to respond.” Ask your child first whether they understand 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. If your child does understand the word, give them a similar speech, but know that this might need to become part of a larger conversation.
- Don’t Be Tempted by YouTube Fame
Sure, a video of your swearing toddler might launch your child into their fifteen minutes of fame at a young age, but curb the desire to pull out your videophone the next time they swear. Doing so only positively reinforces the behaviour and sends a double message — I don’t want you to swear, but swearing will make my friends laugh hysterically, so could you do it one more time and look into the camera?
- Be Honest
When you reprimand your child, they might retort, “But I heard you/Daddy say it.” Resist the urge to deny or justify your own swearing. Instead, admit that you also struggle to control what you say. By doing so you won’t create a double standard — and you’ll get the added bonus of making your child feel like they are facing an adult problem.
- Find New Words
Sit down with your child and brainstorm new, non-offensive words or phrases to say when they feel 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. Encourage them to use other, different words to describe how the person makes them feel. This can expand their vocabulary and help turn a bad moment into a bonding one.
- Create Consequences
If none of the above work, or if your child has already made a habit of swearing, you need stronger measures to show them that this behaviour is not appropriate. Tell them that every time they swear at home, you will take 50p from their pocket money or assign them a new household chore.
Mum and Dad, now it’s your turn
- Bring on the Swear Jar
While putting a dollar in a jam jar each time you swear is the most famous technique to clean a dirty mouth, it can draw attention to swearing in the home, especially for older children. So if bad language is a problem for just one member of the family, you may want to try another method. But if the whole family needs to stop swearing so much, jar can be a fun and an effective way to eliminate swearing. Put the money towards a family activity, like an evening at the movies.
- Correct Guests (Even Grandma!)
Maybe you don’t swear, but what if a frequent guest, like your own mother, does? Let the guest know that, while you may be comfortable hearing these words in other settings, you do not want them in the home. If the guest persists in swearing in your home, or if they are a less regular guest, don’t call attention to it in front of your child. Try to separate them from the party discreetly — ask for help in the kitchen or offer to show them the new painting hanging in your bedroom — and repeat your request. If your children are being watched by a nanny or a babysitter, talk to them about appropriate language in your household as well.
- Beware of TV and Films
Think James is colouring — and too young to understand what’s on the small screen? Think again. Swear words often get laughs and children’s ears will prick up just in time to catch them.
- Find New Words
Can’t help dropping the S-word every time your team loses? The F-word when you stub your toe? Try finding new, less offensive — maybe even funny and incongruous words, like “mango” — to use in these situations. Hey, it may sound strange, but at least it’s not rude.
Swearing is something that is definitely going to happen. Parents should know this is something to expect and that it’s not a reflection of being a bad parent.