At some point as a parent, you may notice your innocent little bundle of joy producing colorful language you’re not so thrilled about. Some moms and dads take a hard line and ban certain words as “no-no’s,” while others give their kids license to swear with censoring.
For me, there’s a better middle ground. Rather than simply forbidding or ignoring them, try using potty words and F-bombs as teachable moments – times that actually help kids get a grasp on social rules and emotional dynamics. If that seems like a tall order, it doesn’t have to be. Here are some ideas to guide you:
It’s not a “bad word”
It’s not very useful to our kids when we tell them they can never say something, or that a particular word is inherently bad. First of all, the list of banned words can get long and confusing, and there’s a glaring double standard when you tisk-tisk your child for saying words that we’re all guilty of using from time to time.
Instead, try to help your child understand when, why, and how strong or risqu’ language is used, and if it is or isn’t the best choice in certain contexts. For example, maybe it’s okay to joke about someone being a “poopy butt” when it’s a good friend or your parents. But in our family, for example, you can’t make those same jokes at the table while we’re eating or with a person you just met.
Focus on the relationship
Try talking about why people would use swear words and how they might make other people feel. After all, the words themselves don’t mean anything without the existence of the person on the receiving end. Would a certain word make people feel uncomfortable? If your child swears at you, try saying something like: Hmm, that didn’t feel good to hear that. I didn’t like it. Or if he uses aggressive language with another child, ask a question like: I wonder how she felt hearing that word? Let’s check in with her about it.
See if you can zero in on what your child is trying to express. Is he using a swear word because he’s angry? Ask about that feeling rather than punishing him. Is he getting his sillies out by making fart jokes? Find another outlet if you’re not comfortable with it.
We all know this one, but it’s a good reminder: Your child simply loves getting a reaction out of you. If you’re trying to curb a swearing habit, don’t burst out laughing or get wide-eyed and gasp when the words come out.
Check your own language
You may not notice that you slip sometimes. And actually, if you’re teaching context and meaning instead of outlawing swearing, that’s okay. But it can’t hurt to look at your own language, as well as the TV, songs, and other media to which your child is exposed.
Don’t take it so seriously
Our kids are figuring out the world, with our help. Don’t sweat the occasional swear word or the potty humor so many of our kids naturally gravitate to. While you’re helping your child understand the when and whys of big-impact words, keep it lighthearted. Let your child know you have a sense of humor, too.