Swear Words/ Curses/ Bathroom Talk

Swear Words/ Curses/ Bathroom Talk

       I remember my own two-year old proudly exclaiming “oh sh*t” one day. Clearly he had learned it from me and I was pretty horrified! Children learn at an early age that certain words are very powerful and get a huge reaction from adults. I have found that children use swear words in two different ways. The first is to get attention – either from peers or adults. The second use is by children who hear swear words in their environment and use them naturally as part of their general vocabulary. Like my son, they might not even realize they are using anything inappropriate until they get a reaction.
            When a child uses a word that is inappropriate, the first step is to stay calm and not overreact emotionally! Children are not bad or come from terrible homes because they use words that might offend you. They are exploring their world and trying to figure out how things work, including the use of language. For many children, this has been modeled and they need to learn new rules about using curse words.  Take a breath to calm yourself and let the child know in a matter-of-fact way that that word (or words) is not appropriate for school. Don’t overdue the attention. If other children have brought it to your attention, tell them you’ll take care of it and talk to the child privately (also see the post on tattling).
      If the child used the word in anger, then move on to helping her express her anger in other ways, including teaching her a couple of words she can use instead. Model using these new words and have her practice. Remind her throughout the day, if necessary. If the child used the words to get attention from other children in a silly way, then you can try a similar approach in teaching him how to get attention in better ways. This might include making funny faces, telling knock-knock jokes, or drawing a funny picture. At the same time, you’ll want to assess whether the child would benefit from other social skills development. Often children use bathroom talk or other inappropriate words as a way of getting social interaction started. If children use inappropriate sexual references, you’ll want to make it clear that such talk is not appropriate and look deeper into the behavior. Is this a pattern? Are there other instances of sexual play or references that are inappropriate? You may need to speak with a family member if you feel the situation is not the typical one in which children test out new found phrases just to get a reaction.
      As  I’ve suggested before, when children have difficulty regulating their own use of inappropriate words, you might put them in charge of monitoring the rest of the children. It is easier for children to learn to regulate others before they can regulate their own behavior. As always, when children use more appropriate behaviors or words, be sure to acknowledge the effort.
      Also consider bringing this issue up at a class meeting. By having children talk in the open about “bad” words and people’s reactions to them, you take away some of the mystery and power that the words have for young children.  For older children, this also lets them know how you feel about them and what you will and won’t accept in class. The children might be able to come up with some reasonable consequences for when such words are used, so that everyone takes some responsibility for the classroom environment.
     What other ways have you found to stop children from using curse words?

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