If your child is swearing, it can be hard to know how to stop it. Swearing is a common behaviour in older children and young people.
For some families, swearing is just a normal way of speaking. In others, it’s completely unacceptable behaviour. You may feel you fit somewhere in between these extremes.
Why do children swear?
There are lots of reasons behind your child swearing. Understanding why they do it can help you decide the best ways to deal with the behaviour.
They could be:
- Trying to fit in or impress their peers
- Feeling upset or hurt
- Trying to shock you to get a reaction
- Copying friends, something they’ve seen on TV, or online
- Feeling angry or frustrated
- Pushing against your boundaries
Children may not understand the particular meaning behind a word, but they do understand from an early age that words can hurt.
Avoid labelling swearing as ‘naughty’, or ‘bad’. Instead, focus on how it made you feel when they swore. You could say, “When you said xxx, I felt xxx,” so your child understands the impact of what they say on others.
1: Your child is swearing for attention
Children love getting attention from parents — both positive and negative. When your child swears, try not to laugh or give them lots of attention, as this encourages them to do it again. You could act bored or uninterested so they don’t get a reaction from you.
Instead, praise them for all the great things they do, so they learn they get the most attention when they behave well.
It’s good to talk about swearing, so your child understands you don’t like it. Use a calm voice and explain why you don’t want them to use that word. Younger children often have no idea what swear words actually mean. Make it clear that this word is not okay to use.
If your child suddenly seems to use a lot of swear words, think about where they might be learning them from, including hearing you use them! It’s a good idea to monitor their activity online and check TV shows they’re watching to ensure they’re age appropriate.
2: They are swearing when hurt or angry
We all shout and swear when we hurt ourselves. Give your child other words they can use or make up some together. Shouting a nonsense word when you get hurt can help make an upsetting situation into a funny one.
If your child swears because they feel angry or frustrated, help them talk about the feeling they’re experiencing and label the emotion with them. They could say, “I’m feeling angry because…” to explain how they feel. Praise them when they manage this without swearing.
If your child often struggles with feeling angry, you can help them find alternative ways to vent their feelings without swearing. They could take up a sport, begin journaling, or take a brisk walk when they feel they’re losing control of their emotions.
3: Your child is swearing to fit in with friends
It’s unrealistic to expect older children to never swear. But you can talk to them about appropriate situations and your rules around swearing at home.
Teach your child about unacceptable swear words that are used to be hateful and offensive. Make it clear that swearing should never be used to mock or bully someone.
To control swearing at home, you could create a family agreement that includes swearing with a simple consequence for that behaviour. Your child should know what will happen if they choose to swear.
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