About RTÉ Television
The Afternoon Show
The Afternoon ShowRTÉ One, Weekdays, 4.00pm

How to Stop your Kids Swearing

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Grainne, our parenting expert will be speaking to us about your children and swearing. This can be a problem for many parents from children too young to understand what they're saying to older children swearing to get attention.

Grainne Ryan, Public Health Nurse

All families are different and have different expectations of what is acceptable within the household. Some parents are very careful with the use of their own language, others let the odd curse word slip while others can cause the air to turn blue every time they open their mouths. No matter what category you fall into, when you hear your child curse for the first time it isn't a pleasant experience.
All children at some point will test the boundaries of acceptable speech.

1) Why do children use bad language?

We parents probably can remember experimenting with 'words' and being corrected or punished for it. Children use 'bad' language for a variety of reasons
. when they are angry
. to show off with peers
. when copying older children
. because they do not know that the word or phrase is unacceptable.

Whatever the reasons for using 'unacceptable' language it needs to be dealt with in a thoughtful and consistent way. In my experience most parents do not want their children to develop this habit.

2) So what can we do to prevent our children swearing?

A - Work Out Values
Parents Values
. parents need to talk about their own values about swearing, decide on what is ok and what is not ok within this family.
. Both parents need to have the same values - do not give mixed messages
. Some families think that it is ok for adults to swear and not for children- this also gives mixed messages
. Families have different words that they disapprove of - sexual words, swearing, or words related to their religion or God.

B - Outline the house rules
Outline the house rules, keep them simple and age appropriate. Decide as a family (adults) what words are acceptable in this household and stick to it.

C - Lead by example.
You can't expect your children to take notice of what you say unless you behave the same way too. Do not use 'bad' language in earshot of children. If a 'bad' word slips out, apologise and say it just slipped out.

D - Be consistent as parents
Be consistent as parents about what you allow and don't allow and don't bend the rules. Inconsistency confuses children and gives the perfect opportunity to play one parent off against the other. 'But dad never corrects us when we use that word'.

E - Back up your rules with discipline
Back up your rules with discipline - it isn't a rule if you don't enforce it

3) But if a child does swear, how do you discipline/ react?

A - Try not over-reacting.
If you freak out when your child says a 'bad' word, there is a good chance that this will reinforce the behaviour. He could use the word to seek attention, any attention be it for good or poor behaviour is attention in some children's view.

B - Try not to laugh
Even if you do find it amusing, by laughing the child will see that he has made you happy, and he may very well use the word again when he wants to get a reaction from you.

C - Pick your moment.
Avoid confronting your child about using 'bad' language while he is angry or upset. This will only add 'salt to his wounds'. When he is calm discuss your 'house rules' and also discuss feelings. 'you were feeling angry earlier when you used 'bad' language tell me what made you feel angry'.

D - Use age appropriate rules. When children are developing their language skills they usually do not realize that 'swear' words are bad. Giving out to them when they use them will have little benefit. The best way to deal with this is to ignore it. Keep it simple. If your child has more developed language, a simple explanation why they shouldn't use that word should solve the problem. Something as simple as that word is not nice we won't use it in this house. Common source of objectionable words are TV, video games, movies and music. Your child may not know exactly what he is saying. Simply state your objection and suggest a substitute phrase. Use age appropriate discipline. Older children who know the difference between swear words may need some form of discipline when they use them. Depending on their age different discipline methods can be used i.e. time out, taking away privileges, grounding or swear jar. Also consider the context in which the swearword was used. Calling a person a 'bad' name is far more hurtful than swearing if you fell and hurt your elbow.

E- Offer more acceptable alternatives to swearing. There are plenty of words that are not so offensive
"Oh, sheep"

"Heck and double heck!'

"Tottering tadpoles"

"Silly sausage"

"Galloping gremlins!'

"Beep and beeping"

Don't beat yourselves up when your child uses some form of 'bad' language. These days very few children get through childhood without saying a single curse word. As long as you are firm about what language is acceptable in your family the chances of your child developing a problem with swearing is very slim.

Younger children are aware of the oomph behind words and how they are used. Preschoolers may not have the ability to differentiate right use from wrong but they can see and feel the response stirred up by the use of certain words in their environment. Be mindful of the words you use also what programmes on TV using inappropriate language. If grandparents, relatives or childminders are careless with speech, ask them to please stop around your child. You will also need to say to your child in matter of fact way ' some people use that word but we can use a different word etc 'flip'.

School Going
At this age children will be exposed to different cultures through school sport, drama etc, Language is a big part of cultural expression. If your child arrives home some day with a new word/words don't be surprised but be ready.
At first, gentle correction is the way to go again you might have to explain in age appropriate language why we don't use this word in our family. Use reasonable consequences for repeat offences. Remember up to the age of eight or nine children are not clear about right and wrong use of language. They need direction from you. Managing use of bas language is an important form of self-control, and like any are of personal growth and development it is a process which will be helped by parents. Make sure they have your good example to model after and your direction to lean on.

Older children/Teenagers
Like adults older children often use swear words when they are angry rather than just wanting to make an impact on others. As parents we will need to find the source of the anger to help them deal with the situation. If swearing continues you may need to sit down wit your teeneager and ask her/him why he/she is doing it. Pick your time, when you both are calm.
Another reason why teenagers use swear words is because it may be part of a peer group, this might be the ideal opportunity to discuss what is important in this group of friends and why she thinks they get along, do lots of listening to her/him feelings.
If there is no improvement and you cannot find the core problem you could say something like' At the moment you are not in control of your language and I will have to help you here, the next time you want to meet with your pals I will not allow you out in case swear words creep. If you use a consequence like the above you need to make it short and give teenagers a chance to try again very soon.