Your toddler has recently started swearing, and you are not sure what to do. After all, your toddler only just mastered expressing himself, and instead of saying duck, he has discovered the power of you know, the word that rhymes with truck.
Why my toddler swears
Remember children use swear words for various reasons. Young children may not even realise that they are swearing. They may just be repeating what they heard from someone else or just testing the word. Sometimes this is a way of getting attention, expressing a feeling, trying to intimidate you, or a means to get peer acceptance.
Whatever the reason, this is something you need to nip in the bud.
Three and four year olds realise that some words get a response from Mom and Dad. This is exciting for a child who is just learning to push the envelope. Some words like “butt” are just simply funny for a preschooler, who is also developing a sense of humour. How you handle these F-bombs is very important, as it can either help tone down the language or backfire.
“If you overreact to a certain word, it can make your child even more intrigued about using it,” says Erin Boyd-Soisson, Ph.D., associate professor of human development and family science at Messiah College, in Grantham, Pennsylvania.
Simple steps that can help to cut out swearing
- Curb your own use of swear words. Children copy a lot of what they see and hear from their parents and others. So if you use swear words, cut them out of your vocabulary.
- Children also learn swear words from TV and friends, therefore control what they watch on TV and let your children’s friends know that swear words are not welcome in your house.
- As difficult as this may be, pretend that the swearing didn’t happen. Your child may be doing it just to get your attention. By ignoring it, you are sending the message that swearing won’t get attention from you. Avoid eye-contact too.
- Pick your battles. Decide on the official swear words. Can your child say, “that sucks,” or “darn it”? Or are these off limits too?
- Give your child some alternative less naughty words to use like “Oh sherbet,” to take the place of swear words.
- Try not to get embarrassed if your child uses a potty word like “bum”. You will be shocked to find that some strangers don’t even notice.
- If all this doesn’t help, then you may need to decide on some form of punishment to make it clear that you mean serious business.
Should I explain what the word means?
Toddlers and preschoolers don’t need an explanation on what the various swear words mean. They are too young to understand this, but they can understand that swear words are offensive and should not be used. An explanation such as “that is not a nice word,” should be good enough.
Dealing with the cause
If your child is swearing because he is angry, teach your child that although anger is a natural reaction, he must express himself in more appropriate ways, or to simply get away from that which is making him upset. If your child is angry with a playmate for example, tell him to move away, and tell an adult, if you are not there.
Give your child other options that can be used instead of using swear words. For example if he is frustrated, teach him to count to 10 or take a deep breath instead of reacting out of frustration.
It’s very important to communicate with your child, especially if swearing appears to be a symptom of a deeper underlying problem. It’s usually a tactic to garner attention, and there is no reason to wash your toddler’s mouth with soap.