Oh %^&* Mommy: What to do when your little one learns to swear

Kids say the darnedest things. It's cute when they recite that funny line from your favorite G rated flick, but how should we handle the inappropriate and downright vulgar things they might hear and, at the least appropriate times, repeat?

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  • My 7-year-old in a tattle-ish, sing-song voice yelled to me, "Mom, Hannah told me to get my A$$ out of town!" Little 5-year-old Hannah heard that word on one of my workout videos. Nice.

  • Our children love to repeat things they hear in the world around them. If they didn't, there is no way we'd all know the words to the Barney "I love you" song. I love hearing my kids quote lines from their favorite movies, and sing songs they hear. It's a little less cute, though, when I hear them quote things I wish they'd never heard in the first place.

  • Sadly, there are very few things we can do as parents to prevent our children from ever hearing inappropriate and foul language. Also, try as we might, we can't actually control whether or not that language comes out of our children's mouths. There are, however, a few skills we can employ as parents to help them make the choice not to use foul language around us.

  • Model appropriate language

  • I'll be completely honest — I have a go-to swear word. I do. That word served me well for many years, actually, because there were times I really did mean it. My cursing stopped abruptly the day I heard my two year old not only use my go-to word, but practice using it in the right context.

  • My little one took her straw out of the juice box she was happily sipping, dropped it on the ground, and in an adorably disappointed voice she said, "Oh d@^% it." In case I thought I’d heard her incorrectly, she then proceeded to pick up her straw, look at me, and deliberately drop it again repeating the same phrase, "Oh d@%^ it." I had no one to blame but myself. One good rule, if you don't want to hear it come out of their adorable mouths, don't you say it either.

  • Establish a boundary

  • Talk about the words as they come up. Make sure they know the words you feel are inappropriate are not ok to use in your home. It is very important to do this without negative emotion. The reason for this, according to an article on childhood swearing by the Love and Logic institute, is that the emotional display by the parent can be reward enough for a child and no consequence can take that rush away. Keeping it light will help the child learn the lesson without the excitement of getting under his parents’ skin.

  • One wise mother once suggested having a "garbage words" night. Writing down the garbage words and throwing them away is an especially good visual lesson for little ones. Some words just belong in the garbage.

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  • You might question the wisdom in making the rule about using bad words in your presence rather than telling kids they can't use them at all. I'll explain. You want to focus on things you, as a parent, can control. Telling your child he can never use a certain word is simply not within your ability to control. Chances are, if your children learn not to use bad language around you (with your proper modeling), they’ll choose to use words that are appropriate at all times.

  • Follow through happily

  • Outline consequences for swearing. Make sure they apply to everyone, and make them fun. Yup, you heard me, make it fun. I'm not saying that the consequence needs to be something that makes the kids want to curse in order to enjoy it, I just mean make it light when you hold them accountable.

  • You might say that inappropriate language drains energy out of those who have to listen to it. In order for that energy to be replaced, chores need to be done. It might cost as much as a car washing in some cases, or as little as helping make mommy's bed for others. It may be that the person needs to bake the family a dessert to replace their energy for having to listen to foul language.

  • Chores are a favorite consequence of the Love and Logic parenting style. Chores help a person feel needed, they let them feel they are contributing and they teach a person it feels good to accomplish things. Also, chores help out the family at large.

  • Your tone in consequence delivery, and emotional reaction to the swearing are the most important factors in keeping your children from cursing. Through modeling, setting boundaries you can control and easy going follow-through, your kids will soon learn they always want to use clean language.

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Rachel Larsen owns and operates the Busy Bugs Preschool, and has been a Love and Logic facilitator for the past five years. She is the author of  a book called "Dear Girls."

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