It’s not easy to shield your child from the use of strong language. They might hear it on TV, a YouTube video, video game, or from other peers or adults, and at some point your child might experiment with it.
The language and words you use (and don’t use) in your home can be thought of as part of your family’s value system. You and your partner can decide what words you consider “off limits” in your family, as well as words that would be unacceptable to use at school and in the community. Be prepared to go over this list of words with your child if their swearing increases. You may need to say something like: “I understand that you hear other kids use that word, but that word is not allowed in our home.”
Your first line of defense is setting a good example at home, making sure you aren’t using language at home that you don’t want your own child to use. Remember, your kids are always listening even if it might not seem that way.
In addition, here are some other strategies to try when your child starts using strong language:
- Planned Ignoring: Use this strategy the first time your child uses a swear word at home. It’s possible that ignoring their chosen words will be enough to get them to stop using swear words. The key is to not overreact or laugh, which takes the excitement away, and when they don’t see you react, they may remove it from their vocabulary.
- Discuss The Problem: Pick a time when everyone is calm to talk to your child about swearing. “Diya, I don’t like it when you use swear words. From now on those words are not allowed.” Ask your child to give you some reasons why swear words are not OK to use, such as “Swearing can get you in trouble at school, or at a friend’s house,” or “Words have power and can hurt people’s feelings.” Then, ask them to make a list of words they can use instead to express what they are feeling.
- Name Emotions: Encourage your child to name the emotion they are feeling. Naming the emotion instead of using a swear word will be a positive step toward regulation. When we can identify a feeling, it helps the emotional part of the brain to calm, and then we can more easily think about how to respond to the problem. Work through the problem and talk about the swearing when they are calm. Then, you can teach your child acceptable ways to express themselves when feelings are high.
- Keep A Swear Jar: Grab a small jar and some small items of your choice (beans, or craft pom poms). Explain that for every swear word that the child uses, a “bean” will go in the jar. Once the jar is full, they will lose a privilege. Another option could be, if they are able to keep the jar “bean-free,” they can earn a reward at the end of the day, weekend or week, such as a special activity with mom or dad. You might consider having a jar for everyone, and agree on a family activity ahead of time if all of you can go the whole day, weekend or week using only acceptable language. Teenagers especially respond to being able to help keep their parents accountable to the family.
- Encourage Positive Alternatives: Come up with some words to use in place of swear words. If your child uses foul language when you tell them it’s time to turn off their video game, offer other words they can use when they feel frustrated like “phooey!” The sillier, the better!
- Establish The Source: Did your child pick up their newfound vocabulary from school, an older sibling, a TV show, social media, or even yourself? Depending on the source, you may need to limit exposure to that particular show or book, as well as be mindful of the language you use yourself. If your child watches YouTube or plays online video games, you may also want to turn off the comments and chat features.
- Give Praise: Did you notice your pre-teen stop herself before she let a bad word slip? Let her know that you appreciate her efforts to use appropriate language rather than swear words.
Being a positive role model goes a long way in establishing appropriate word usage in your home and discouraging those words you never want to hear come out of your child’s mouth. With planning and consistent responses, you can address the issue right away, and your child can learn ways to express himself with language that is easier on the ears.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis, and Lynne Grilley.
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