Teaching Our Children About Bad Words

I was the odds-on favorite to be responsible for the first bad word to come out of my sweet daughter Avery’s 4 1/2-year-old mouth. 

Not that I am guilty of regularly using inappropriate language. I just wear my emotions on my sleeve often — for better and sometimes for worse. 

Fortunately for me, it happened when our girl overheard my wife’s reaction to a “disagreement” we had with the way I changed lanes in traffic. 

A few hours later, Avery had a “disagreement” of her own with one of her toys and out came the word she had heard in the car. Once I successfully fought back laughter and moved past the relief that it wasn’t my fault, I realized we potentially had a bigger issue on our hands. 

We are not alone. Some experts say children are learning to use profanity at an earlier age than they did just a few decades ago.

If your little ones have started to use some unsavory expressions, here are a few tips that can help them better understand the importance of their words and hopefully limit these verbal missteps.

  • Establish your family values. Each family raises their children with different values and beliefs about appropriate language. I know of a family who finds the word “poop” highly inappropriate, while it is the term of choice in our house. Like most things in parenting, it is important for you and your partner to sit down and agree on what words are OK and what words aren’t. If one parent finds one word OK and the other does not, it will just confuse your child. 
  • Determine the reason behind the word. Like it or not, your reaction will influence whether your child swears again. If you laugh a lot, you can bet you will hear that word again, accompanied by a beaming smile. If your child is using this word to get attention, it is best to ignore the swearing completely. No talking, no eye contact, no reaction. This is the best way to cut it off at the very beginning.
  • Embrace a teachable moment. If the inappropriate words continue, this is a great opportunity to sit down with your little ones and teach them about the impact of their words. While they may not understand the true definition of a word, children can understand the way a word makes people feel.
  • Monitor their resources. Where is your child picking up his or her new vocabulary? While family, friends and people at school are obvious sources, think one step further. What shows or movies is she watching? What music is she listening to? What types of videos is she watching on the internet?  
  • Be a role model. If you want to eliminate these words from your children’s vocabulary, it must start with you. You are their hero and the coolest person in the world to them. Telling your children that they can’t use a word and then using it yourself will lead to confusion for your children and frustration for you. Be more mindful of your own vocabulary.
  • Provide consequences. Once you have explained to your children why these words are not appropriate, it is important they know that it is their choice to continue to use the word and that their choice has consequences. I am not here to tell you how to parent and discipline your children, but knowing there will be a negative outcome if they use the word can help curb their desire to say it.

Chances are, you are going to have to deal with bad words many times as your children get older and are exposed to more people and more content sources, especially in their teenage years when they are using new words to try to be cool and impress their friends. 

Laying the foundation for the words we use, and more importantly those we don’t, just might help you get through the teenage years a little easier.

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