“Like a Trooper”: What Should Parents Do if a Child Swears?
Dec 09, 2019
A swear word spoken by a child is a shock to his/her parents. Mom and Dad naively believed that their well-educated baby would never use foul language – neither with peers nor in the circle of relatives. However, children often do not see anything reprehensible in swearing – no big deal, these are just words. It is important for the parents to convey to the child that obscene words are the worst way to communicate with others. However, it is sometimes extremely difficult to do this, especially during the periods of age-related crises. Let’s talk about how to make a child stop swearing. What actions on the part of parents will help him/her master an intellectual style of communication while forgetting about foul language?
In one of the Russian schools, an interesting survey was conducted among the high school students in order to identify how many children swear at school. Only 54% of respondents showed a negative attitude to the foul language. The remaining adolescents were either positive or neutral towards using swear words. When the children were asked to express their opinions about foul language, the following thoughts were expressed: “it doesn’t work so well without it”, “it is permitted to talk obscenities in a certain place, at a certain time”, “it helps to reduce the entire sentence to one word”, “it helps to explain to the interlocutor something that he/she does not understand”. 
- Why do children swear?
- Young foul-mouthed persons: age-related features of the swearing habit
- What should we do if a child swears at school?
- Five typical mistakes of parents in the fight against child swearing
- What should be done if the child swears: Seven recommendations from psychologists
- What if tips do not help and the child continues to swear?
Why do children swear?
The first thing that pops into the head of an adult when a child is heard swearing in a kindergarten or at school is “what are the parents thinking” or “he/she is in with the wrong crowd”. This is only partially true. Among the young foul-mouthed persons there are children from quite well-to-do families.
Why does a child begin to have a desire to swear? The reasons are varied:
1. Attempt to gain attention
How do Mom and Dad usually react when they hear that their baby has intentionally or accidently cursed? They start panicking with moral arguments, sometimes severe punishments and long “heart to heart” conversations. The child who is perhaps neglected by the parents, understands that “bad words” make parents a little closer. Even if the attention is negative, the child doesn’t care, because the parents are finally responding. Most likely, the child will occasionally use this method to gain attention. 
2. Attempt to assert oneself
Aggressive speech with bad words becomes, for many people, a manifestation of strength. Thus, people try to show their power, to humiliate or substantiate. Children are not exceptions. For them, foul language is one of the easiest ways to show others (usually their peers) their independence, “coolness” and contemptuous disregard of the rules.
This is why blaming bad company for the child’s indecent behavior is a great mistake. Friends do not teach the child to swear, as parents sometimes imagine. The child himself decides to “enrich” his speech with two or three swear words in order to stand out among friends.
3. Revenge or offence
What do many adults say when they get into an unpleasant situation? In the heat of the moment, only abusive expressions pop into their heads. Children do this too, they copy the behavior of their parents. Swearing for them becomes a manifestation of anger, pain, or gall in a similar way.
That is why many teenagers, when sharply reacting to the criticism of adults, use foul language in a burst of temper – even in the presence of Mom and Dad. This is an attempt to hurt the loved ones and take revenge upon them. Even a five-year-old child can swear in response to his offender in the sandbox. 
4. A negative example of adults
Some people never swear under any circumstances. However, there are those for whom obscene language has become a kind of communication style. It doesn’t matter what kind of mood a person has – the swear words appear at literally every other word.
If foul language is OK for one of the parents, the child will copy this communication style with a high degree of probability. Perhaps he/she understands that this is bad, but does not see a positive example, since the family uses obscene language.
Whatever the reasons for the child’s use of bad words, the problem requires an intelligent solution. Many may argue that there is no need to overreact, there is nothing terrible in this fact, they say the child will later understand that this is undesirable. However, psychologists are uncompromising, since gradually it can develop into a habit that is difficult to be broken. It is believed that the abundance of swear words in the vocabulary reduces intelligence, leads to permissiveness in actions and increases the level of aggression. 
Young foul-mouthed persons: age-related features of the swearing habit
“I do not know what to do – my child has begun to swear. Mitya is a second grader. There have not been any problems with this behavior previously. But recently I was invited to the school – it turns out my son swears “like a trooper”. He calls his classmates names and creates mischief together with his friends while obstructing lessons. I was in shock! At home he is an exemplary boy. I do not know what has happened to him. How and where did he pick up these words? My husband and I communicate in a normal way, we do not swear.
I found out who my son is interacting with. It turned out that they are the ordinary guys from quite well-to-do families. It is not clear where such a desire to behave so marginally comes from.
I spoke with Mitya and punished him. A fat lot of good this did. The teacher continues to complain. I am terribly ashamed of the behavior of my son. I don’t know how to react”.
– Oksana, mother of 8-year-old Mitya
According to psychologists, almost every child is faced with the swearing problem. This is normal. However, the question is whether the swearing will be only a short-term manifestation of an age-related crisis or will it gradually transform into the natural style of communication? Here it becomes important that the parents try to have the situation under control, not allowing the child to take the wrong turn.
Surveys demonstrate that teenage girls are more likely to express a sharply negative attitude towards swear words – more than 70% of respondents said they do not like abusive expressions. However, the boys differ in this regard – only 26% of the respondents expressed a negative attitude to foul language, while the remaining respondents even like such behavior. 
The actions and reactions of adults in response to the curses should depend on the age of the child.
2-4 years old
Up to 4 years, little ones swear unconsciously under the “heard – repeated” principle. It is natural and they do not understand the meaning of the words, nor how inappropriate they are in a particular situation. The children have yet to learn to see the difference between the “good” and the “bad”.
Local kindergartens and playgrounds are the main places where the toddler can learn something bad. However, one cannot blame only third-party circumstances. Sometimes the parents, while communicating with each other, completely do not care about the way they speak. It only seems like the child has not heard or understood anything, most likely, he/she has already remembered your expression, especially if you have focused on the fact that you disapprove of saying such things. Afterwards the child will certainly repeat what has been learned, given the chance. 
5-7 years old
Probably, the preschooler has already heard explanations that there are “bad words” which should never be repeated. It is quite possible to expect in such a situation that swear words for the child will become a kind of rebellion against the rules established by adults.
Certainly the child still does not understand the meanings of abusive words. However, he/she catches onto emotions and the message that they carry. Therefore, we can expect that the child will swear quite consciously.
What should we do if the child swears at the age of seven? The parents often do not even realize that their little one is happy to use abusive words in practice. After all, the child fears punishment and behaves in such a way only with peers. The educators should also work on this problem in order to relay it to the parents at the optimum time.
8-10 years old
By this age, the child already clearly understands where and with whom he/she can swear, and where it is better not to do it. The younger schoolchildren are happy to copy the behavior of high school students, thus joining the world of adults. They use slang to blend in with their peers.
What should we do if a child swears at the age of nine? It is important not to miss the chance to explain that obscene language is the enemy of civilized communication between people. The “coolness” will not be appreciated in polite society, but rather the child will be considered a representative of the lower social strata.
11-14 years old
The adolescence crisis is a difficult period for any child. It is manifested by rapid behavioral changes, including the active use of swear words in speech.
Obscenities for a teenager are an expression of discontent, an attempt to stand out among peers and a way of making a stand against the “evil” parents. The child rebels against everyone and everything, while trying to prove that he/she is fully-grown and independent. Unfortunately, the obscene words are the easiest way for the teenagers to achieve what they want.
What should we do if a child over ten years old swears? The juvenile period is the very time when it’s easier than ever to ruin your relationship with your child. Adults should approach the problem of bad words as carefully as possible, without any scandals, screams or threats. However, do not let things slide, otherwise such behavior in a child threatens to become the norm.  You can show your child how it looks from the outside when swearing by filming on a mobile phone. Then the child will be able to clearly see that it does not look cool, but rather vile and distasteful at the same time.
What should we do if a child swears at school?
At school, the child is gaining knowledge but such knowledge is not always the basics of writing, reading and math. According to psychologists, many children who never used foul language before are pleased to insert bad words into their speech after enrolling in the first grade.
The obscenities at school represent copying of peer behavior. It’s difficult for a child in the new circle to try to find new friends, or even to become a “pack leader”. If someone in a particular circle uses obscene language, your schoolchild will copy this. It is unlikely that the reasonable arguments of the parents and punishments will help in such situations. 
What should the parents do if their child swears at school? It is worth talking with the teacher and learning more about your child’s friends. Find out how they spend time during the class breaks and in which instances they use profanities. When obscene words are not the only manifestation of bad behavior at school, the school psychologist may become involved. The only true solution to the problem is a calm dialogue with the child. The child must independently come to the conclusion that bad words are not the best way to communicate with others. 
Five typical mistakes of parents in the fight against child swearing
The problem of children using obscene words definitely requires attention. However, in some cases, the parents cross the line.
Mistakes parents make when trying to “rehabilitate” a swearing child:
1. Make a mountain out of a molehill
When telling the child off for using bad words one should not overstate the “horrible nature” of swearing. This is important because many adults will scold the child as if he/she had committed a real crime. It is important to convey the idea that using swear words is not an example of “disruptive behavior”, but rather “ill-mannered behavior”. These are completely different concepts.
2. Block the child from communication with his peers
Many adults find no other solution than to prohibit the child from being friends with the “bad” crowd. This is something that should not be done if the child is swearing. Your actions will not work. Firstly, a lot of children use obscene language in high school, which means a switch to home schooling. Secondly, the child will react to your prohibitions with acute resentment and rebellion.
3. Prohibit swear words “for no good reason”
For the adult, the truth about the ill-mannered nature of swearing is fundamental. However, for a child up to 8 years old, the moral arguments of adults are just empty words. Therefore, such reproaches as “do not swear, because I said so” will certainly not work. The child needs clear and intelligible explanations as to why abusive words are prohibited.
4. Shame the child in front of people
When a child suddenly says a bad word in front of others, parents want to melt into the ground. The situation is unpleasant indeed. However, it is not a reason to publicly punish and shame the child. The surrounding persons will most likely soon forget about this “mistake”, but the child will feel the shame experienced, and probably carry it through his/her entire life. The best solution is to hold off on punishment and have an educational conversation at home.
5. Make a generalization
When the time comes for moral conversation and punishment, many parents cease to control themselves. It is important to talk exactly about that specific misconduct of the child, and not to recall past “sins.” It is better to refrain from the words “you are bad, if you say that”. It is necessary to put emphasis on the fact that it is the behavior that is undesirable, not the child! “General” accusations will only dent the child’s self-confidence.
What should be done if the child swears: Seven recommendations from psychologists
In the fight against child swearing, it is easy to cross the fine line beyond which the educational work will do more harm than good. We would like to provide helpful guidelines that will help adults to take control of the situation.
1. Take it easy
The child did not hit anyone, did not torture a cat, did not break expensive equipment. He/she just said a bad word. Should you really be making a big deal out of it?
Try to stay calm and react without strict punishments. This is especially important when the child swears at the age of 3 or 4. In this case, try to do as follows: react as if you have not heard nothing! As a rule, the baby immediately forgets about an incomprehensible word, since parents do not care. When Mom and Dad react violently, perhaps getting angry or laughing, the child realizes that these “strange” words gain attention and will feel even more interest in them.
2. Understand why the child is cursing
Before doing anything, it’s important to understand why a child over eight is swearing. It is at this age when children understand why the obscene words are used in general. Maybe the child used them because he/she was hurt or offended, thus copying your behavior in a similar situation. Teenagers can also swear in order to probe the boundaries of what is permissible.
One must understand the motives. Talk calmly with the child to find out what was the prompt to switch from normal to abusive speech. Feeling your sympathy, he/she will probably tell you about the triggering factor. Only then you can react, for example, you can talk about acceptable behavior in public places and at home.
3. If necessary, explain the meaning of words
A common situation is as follows: a child comes from the street and asks his parents what the word consisting of “four letters” means. He has heard it from someone, but now it’s important for him to know what it is. Do not panic, the child just wants help. It is better for the parents to explain the meaning of the word, otherwise peers will do it (and the information will most likely be incorrect). Explain calmly. Afterwards, of course, specify why it is better not to use the word it in front of other people.
Not only children under seven can swear without knowing the meaning of the words they use, many adolescents also do not particularly understand the meaning of obscene language. The child argues as follows: “everyone says it, so I can too”. 
4. Tell them about your feelings.
Instead of blaming the child for swearing, pick out other ways to voice your feelings and emotions in relation to this situation. Such options may be used: “It’s unpleasant for me to hear it,” “The way you speak is upsetting me”.
5. Teach your child to correctly resolve the conflicts
If abusive words in the child’s speech appear only as a manifestation of aggression, anger or resentment, the task of parents is to teach him/her to get out of conflict situations. In such cases, the child simply does not understand how to behave. The most obvious thing to do is to “scold” the offender.
Talk and show that you understand your child’s feelings. Explain as clearly as possible that swear words are not helpful in conflict situations. They only add fresh fuel to the fire. Explain the most effective ways to show your negative emotions to the interlocutor or the offender using examples.
If swearing has already become a habit of the child when resolving conflicts and expressing feelings, then the solution will not be easy. Educational conversations should be conducted after each unpleasant incident, however parents should be patient. 
6. Respect your child’s personal boundaries
Anxious parents who want to control their child’s life often violate his/her personal boundaries. A common situation is scrolling through conversations in social networks. For adults it comes as a real shock that there may be more offensive words in the messages than normal words. Then the parents create scandals, reproaches, threats, or punishments.
Younger schoolchildren can calmly respond to violation of personal boundaries, but adolescents will not tolerate this, and conflicts cannot be avoided.
Learn to respect your growing child. If swearing occurs only with friends and without any misconduct in school, then it is important to react calmly. Try to convey to the rebellious child that obscenities (even within the circle of friends) are not “cool”, but rather a manifestation of a vocabulary deficiency. Perhaps the child will soon realize that it is hardly worth gaining the “status” in the company of hooligans. 
7. Show a positive example
The parents’ example is the basis for the harmonious maturation and development of a child. Examples should be positive. Children of non-foul-mouthed parents are very unlikely to take up an obscene communication style even in “bad” company.
If you want a child over six to not even want to swear, establish clear rules in the family and never use bad language at home. Keep an eye not only on the child, but also on yourself! Rules are established for everyone, and therefore adults are not allowed to break them. There should be no exceptions. If the child sees that you are breaking the rules, he/she will decide that it is fine to behave this way too.
What if tips do not help and the child continues to swear?
In some cases, even the sensible strategy of parents to wean children away from swearing does not work. Neither calm conversations nor positive examples help in this situation. Thus, it’s time to turn to the psychologist for help before the situation goes completely out of control and the child forgets how to communicate in an adequate way.
In a research project, about 45% of high school students when answering the question on what swearing means for them said that it is a habit. That is, foul language has already entered the vocabulary of children so much that they cease to control what they say no matter where they are – in the company of peers, at school or at home with their parents. This is such a disappointing piece of data.
The use of bad words in everyday speech is an unhealthy behavior pattern. It shows that the child has already developed the bad habit of expressing his emotions and feelings using obscene language. However, the problematic behavior can be corrected. Behavioral psychological methods aim at finding a solution to this problem.
One of the new methods is the 7Spsy behavior modification technique course. This is a patented technique based on theories of I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A.A. Ukhtomsky, etc.
After training, the child will be able to correct the problem behavior. The child will understand that using obscene words is the worst way to join the “cool” peer group, and that profane language does not attract, but rather repels cultured, educated people. Having mastered positive affirmations, it will be much easier for the child to deal with the negative emotions that often cause meltdown and swearing. The child will understand that it is possible to solve any conflict peacefully without any insults.
The 7Spsy psychological course is conducted in a convenient tele-communicating mode. It is designed for a period of up to 6 weeks. In this case where the child is learning individually the parents will only need to remind about contacting the psychologist. All the necessary consultations and answers to the questions will be received by phone, via e-mail or in the online chat rooms.
Many adults clearly understand how inappropriate the use of obscene words can be. However, the child is only learning to communicate with people. It is important for family to help the child to “find his/her feet” in society. Then the child will definitely thank you that you formed good habits of “normal” communication without the need for swear words.
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