Watching your child develop his oratorical skills is one of the joys of parenthood. But that pleasure soon turns to shock when, for the first time, you hear him unexpectedly curse and swear. The chances are that he utters these words spontaneously, for instance, when he hurts himself in a fall or when he loses his temper.
How you react to your child’s profanity influences his subsequent use of foul language. You’ll probably respond in one of the following ways:
1. Laughing Uncontrollably The incongruity of his use of adult language can seem comical, even though you disapprove of the language. While this reaction is perfectly understandable, your child may interpret it as your approval of his swearing – so if you feel like smiling or laughing at him cussing, don’t let it show.
2. Telling him off severely You may be so annoyed that you give your child a very strong reprimand. Yet this strategy may backfire. If you draw undue attention to his swearing, he will immediately think that swearing is a good way to get your attention. It will probably encourage him to do the same whenever he wants to achieve the same effect in the future.
3. Ignoring him You may have difficulty ignoring his use of foul language, especially if you are caught by surprise, but this can be a useful strategy. He may have used the word casually because he heard someone else use it, and he might not even realise what he has said. However, you can’t ignore his cussing if it continues to be a regular occurrence. A child who is five or six is often attracted to swearing because he knows that older children or adults do it. Most children like to imitate the behaviour of an older age group.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Act calmly when you hear him swear. Try not to over-react. Remember that he may genuinely not understand the meaning of what he had said and he could become frightened by an extreme response from you. Talk to him calmly, but seriously, so that he knows you are unhappy with his choice of words.
Your six-year-old is able to grasp the distinction between a “good” word and a “naughty” word. So explain to him that swearing is something neither children nor adults should indulge in. Tell him the practical consequences of such behaviour and that you will be unhappy with him if he uses such words again. By pointing out the effects that his swearing could have on his personally, he is likely to discontinue the habit – but don’t make the consequences seem too extreme or he won’t believe you.
Never tell your child that swearing is for adults. If swearing is not right for a child, then it isn’t right for an adult either. You can’t prevent him from hearing other people swear, but setting a good example at home provides him with an appropriate model to imitate. Thus, also consider your own use of language. You may be surprised to discover that you occasionally use words in a fit of anger that you would not want your child saying.
However, if you choose to react when you hear your child swear, ensure that he doesn’t interpret your criticism as rejection. Although he should realise that you disapprove of his cussing, he also needs to understand that you can be angry with him because of his swearing, and yet love him at the same time.