It’s a nightmare every parent has.
You’re somewhere public — the store, the park, a religious service — and your preschooler decides to shout a four letter word they recently heard someone else use. Every judgemental eye in the crowd turns to you, waiting to see how you’ll respond.
So what can you do when a bad word (intentionally or not) comes out of their mouth? Here are some tips on how to handle the situation.
What to Do When Kids Swear
As hard as it may be to keep yourself from laughing or scolding at your child blurting out a curse word, do everything you can not to overreact. An emotional response adds fuel to the flame and immediately creates motivation for them to say the word again.
If your child is learning to speak and they accidentally say a bad word while trying to say “truck” or “sit,” gently correct them and move on. They don’t know they’ve cursed, so there’s no need to acknowledge it. However, make sure to help them say the word correctly to avoid others laughing if they mispronounce the word again later.
You can also try ignoring the curse if your child only says it once. Children are always trying out new words. If they say it once and get no reinforcement from others, they may decide not to do it again. Back to point one, bringing attention to the word at all may be the worst thing you could do.
Make it a teachable moment.
However, if your toddler or preschooler decides this new four-letter word is now one of their favorites, calmly make it a teachable moment. Use the same tone and demeanor that you would if you were correcting them for any other first-time behavioral issue. Talk about how words like the one they used can hurt other people’s feelings or are disrespectful. Reinforce kindness and caring as important parts of why that language shouldn’t be used. Also explain that, just like hitting and throwing tantrums, such language violates your family’s “house rules” and won’t be tolerated.
If the allure of bad language is too strong for your kiddo and they decide all of your good reasoning isn’t enough to deter them from uttering profanities, you’ll need to create some consequences. This will be different for every child, but the punishment should definitely fit the crime. If your child cherishes their allowance, deduct 50 cents for every bad word uttered. If they love having friends come over, tell them you’ll cancel the next play date if they can’t stop saying bad words.
Try to Find the Root Issue
Kids swear for lots of different reasons. Especially when they are younger, they’re often mimicking those around them, the things they accidentally hear in movies, or what they hear their parents say (whoops!). These truly innocent flubs should be treated as such. They are accidents that, if handled well, can be overcome easily.
But kids also swear to feel like they belong to the group or to exert their independence. In either case, making sure they feel a part without all the potty language and giving them control in other areas of their life can make overcoming bad language an easier thing to do. Like most things with parenting, navigating the issue of control is an ever-changing journey that is unique with every child. As their parent, you’ll know the best way to help them get past this phase.
And remember: Every parent has a “my kid cursed in public” story. You’re not alone in this learning process. Laugh at the circumstance (not in front of your child who just cursed, of course). Give yourself and your kiddo the grace you both need to work through this very normal issue. You’ve got this!