How to Talk to Your Kids About…Using Bad Language

No parent likes to hear four letter words around the house, or potty talk during a play date. Talking to our children about the importance of appropriate words, can help put a stop to the foul language and dirty mouths.

When bad words start appearing at your house, don’t overreact. This is what your child wants you to do. When we get upset and draw attention to the unacceptable words, our children will use them more and more to get attention. We need to stay calm.

Take time to talk to your children:

  • Explain that even though they may hear other people using profanity, it is not acceptable in your family and you expect them to make better word choices.
  • It is also important to talk to your children about how words can hurt people just like hitting them does. Foul language can be mocking, degrading, and scornful. Help your child examine the effects that swear words have on others and on themselves. Where appropriate, use a personal example to illustrate a time when bad words hurt you or someone you know.
  • When your child does use profanity, make it clear that you expect them to apologize to those around them that heard the bad language.

Then, take time to talk to them about why they are using those words and how they feel when they swear. Talk about other words they could use when they are angry or frustrated, instead of foul language.

Our children learn the most from the example we set for them. We must be sure that we are not using bad words. My husband learned this the hard way. About a year ago he said, “these kids were screwing around at school” in front of our 3 year old. Although this is not a four-letter word, we don’t want our three year old saying it. She spent the rest of the day saying, “screwing around.” Hearing it once was all it took. My husband learned quickly, to watch every word. We also learned to pay close attention to the music they listen to, the TV and movies they watch, and the friends they play with.

Talk about the consequences of swearing, before it happens. Choose wisely. The consequence should encourage them to make better word choices, without scaring them off from communicating with you altogether. Talk to your child about why they used the words they did. Did they swear to impress their friends, to get your attention, or maybe because they are angry? There are reasons our children talk like this, try to find the reason and it will aid in knowing how to deal with the problem.

Other tips for dirty mouths:

  • When children are small, teach them the correct names for body parts. This way, they will be “no big deal words” to your kids and they won’t get excitement or satisfaction out of using them.
  • Often, children of all ages swear or use potty talk to get attention. Children need lots of attention. Whether the attention comes from positive or negative actions, they are still getting attention. Be sure you are giving your children plenty of positive attention.
  • Do not respond to bad language. Make it clear that you won’t respond unless they speak using appropriate words. Walk away if you need to.
  • Teach kids how to manage and deal with anger. Older kids swear because they are angry or trying to fit in and be popular. If they learn young how to manage their anger, they will be less likely to swear when they are mad. Teach them self-mastery. Help build your child’s self esteem so that they don’t feel the need to act out, to “fit in” and be popular. Make sure they know how popular they are in your eyes so they aren’t overly seeking that attention in other places.

It is very normal for young children and teenagers to go through “dirty mouth” phases. We can’t stop the words from coming out of their mouths, but we can do a few things that shorten the “phase” and keep things on track.

About the Author

Heather Ann Johnson is a homemaker, wife and mother. She and her husband have 4 children. She is an Adjunct Faculty member at Brigham Young University where she teaches students the principles behind successful families. Her site, Family Volley, answers reader’s questions about families, marital relationships, and raising children. Heather is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team


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