Has your child stumped you by blurting out a bad word, whether innocently or intentionally? Learn how to respond correctly to a child using bad language.
From outright R-rated words to the less offensive, hearing kids say a bad word isn’t pleasant.
First, we’re surprised, maybe even guilty because there’s a good chance we know where they must’ve picked it up from. Then we react and discipline our kids regardless of whether they even knew they said a bad word or not.
And finally, we cringe hearing offensive words that sound grating to our ears. It’s just not the type of language we expect or prefer to hear coming from our kids.
How to respond to a child using bad language
As offensive or shocking as it is to hear a child using bad language, avoid jumping to conclusions or strict discipline. Instead, use the moment to teach valuable lessons, different ways to communicate, and the type of language you want your family to use.
When your child says a bad word, respond correctly and swiftly with the following tips:
1. Respond, don’t (over)react
It’s hard hearing your child using bad language, both the benign like “stupid” to more serious offenders. Our reactions can range from swift discipline to apologizing to everyone within earshot.
My kids have yet to say outright R-rated words, but even disrespectful words already have me raising my eyebrows and ready to react.
But keep your cool and stay calm. For one thing, if your child isn’t aware of what he did wrong, your reaction might scare him. It might even make him feel ashamed of something he doesn’t understand. You can imagine how unfair it can seem to them to be disciplined when they don’t even know what they did wrong.
And second, if your child sees you go crazy over a word, he might say them more often to get a rouse out of you. He’s now aware that this word carries extra weight and touches a nerve with you.
2. Don’t ignore it, either
Another common assumption is to take the opposite approach. You say nothing, hoping the silence will prevent your child from saying the bad words any further.
This might work the first time or two. But any more than that, and we can’t assume our kids are aware they’ve even said a bad word.
My son grew frustrated with his toys when he exclaimed “Bam!” in a way that sounded a whole lot like “Damn!” At first I ignored it, not trying to make a big deal. But he’d say it a few other times for the same reasons. I got the feeling he had no idea he sounded like he was saying something he shouldn’t.
So rather than ignore it completely, I explained why it’s inappropriate to say. We discussed how some words can offend others even if it isn’t his intention. That it’s best to avoid saying them at all.
3. Help your child find alternatives
Another time, my son huffed a loud “Jeezus!” when he felt frustrated with a set of building toys he was trying to create. I knew full well where he picked that up from (more on that later). So I first acknowledged that he felt upset but told him not to say that word.
So I offered alternatives: he can say “sheesh” or “darn.” Or he doesn’t even have to say anything at all and instead take a few deep breaths or ask for help. Point is, he needed alternatives to words we don’t want him to say.
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4. Tell others not to swear around your kids
Do your relatives yell expletives left and right, often within hearing shot of your kids? Hush them up. You can do this with humor or even blame it on your own “crazy parenting.” Kids hearing adults who curse will think this is normal. They learn best from watching what others do, not what they’re told to avoid.
Which brings me to…
5. Watch your own cursing
I knew all too well where the expressions (even if not the real deal expletives) came from when he would say “Jeezus” or “Bam!”
When flustered, I’ll still mutter an expletive under my breath and hope my kids didn’t hear. Though I’m pretty good about staying away from them, the bad words still slip out once in a while.
Since hearing my son mimic my own bad habits, I’m more aware when reacting to situations and using bad words. It’s just something I can’t keep doing.
If cursing is a mainstay in your vocabulary, tone it down. Find better words to say instead. Control your reactions so you have a few seconds to consider the situation before saying a bad word.
6. Admit if you do it too
If your child happens to call you out with an honest, “But you say it too!” like my kid did, fess up and admit it. Acknowledge that you slipped and also need to work on it. Better yet, thank him for pointing it out and reminding you.
Admitting your faults won’t lessen your authority. Instead, it’ll reiterate that these family values apply to everyone, not just kids. And fessing up with make you more committed to setting a better example for your kids.
It’s been several weeks since my son has said either of the two offenses I mentioned earlier. And we haven’t heard a (bad) peep from him since. We’ll likely hear them in the future, and maybe even the worse offenders. But modeling, finding alternatives and addressing the issue sets better (and cleaner) habits.
Get more tips:
- Why Kids Lie and What to Do About It
- How to Respond when Your Child Makes a Mistake
- Stop Nagging Your Child to Get Stuff Done
- Teach Gratitude to Children So They’re Thankful for What They Have
- How to Respond to Your Child’s Hurtful Words
Tell me in the comments: How do you respond to your child using bad language?
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