Swearing may be acceptable for “drunken sailors” but it is not a good communication technique in the home. Foul language is hurtful and insulting. Even if a person swears into the air because he stubbed his toe, it is still a very unpleasant sound in the house. It is unhealthy for the child who must listen to his or her parents swear at each other in anger. When an adult swears at a child it is not only offensive but also degrading and destructive to the child’s development. And when a child swears at a parent, it indicates a complete breakdown of the normal healthy boundaries between parents and children, some sort of grave dysfunction within the parent-child dynamic. In short, swearing is never a good way to communicate in family life.
How can parents encourage a “swear-free” environment? Consider the following tips:
Educate and Sensitize Your Child
Teach your child the importance and value of proper communication. Explain the crudeness of swearing and the reasons you don’t want it used in your house. The more the child understands about what is wrong with this form of communication, the more likely he or she is to respect your wish that this sort of language be avoided.
Consistently Reinforce a “No Swearing” Rule
Kids will tend to copy what they hear adults say or do. It’s almost impossible to discipline a child or teen who swears when Mom and Dad do the same. Ending a child’s swearing must therefore start with ending the parents’ swearing. If you’ve developed a habit of swearing when you hurt yourself or when you’re angry at someone, let your children know that you are “swearing off swearing!” Tell them that you are going to discipline yourself every time you swear until you’ve broken your habit of swearing. Your punishment could be anything you choose – donating money to charity, doing push-ups, or even writing out pages of lines every time you swear. Just pick something, let everyone know you’re doing it and then do it. Within a few short weeks, your should no longer be swearing and your child will be impressed.
Once you’ve properly dealt with your own swearing habits, tell the kids it’s their turn. You will now ask them to select an appropriate punishment for themselves (or choose one for them) that you will enforce whenever you hear them swear.
Mind Your Reactions When You Hear Your Child Swear
Children like attention and will engage in behaviors that bring them attention. Therefore, it’s essential NOT to give a lot of attention to swearing. If your child swears, go silent. Take time to calm down and think of what intervention you want to use to deal with this behavior. Remember: the more upset you show, the more you’re likely to hear bad language again. Stay cool.
For young children, those aged 5 and below, the best response to swearing is a calm “We don’t speak like that. Those are bad words. Please say it again properly.” Again, remain calm and collected.
For older kids, react calmly, slowly and quietly using the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe) – a gentle, but firm form of discipline. Essentially, you make a rule that swearing is not allowed. Then, when the child swears, you repeat the new rule and name a negative consequence that will occur in the future for swearing. Then, if it happens again, quietly and firmly apply the consequence.
Replace the Swear Word with Something That is More Acceptable
What if your child uses swear words in everyday conversation? In this case, your child may not be swearing out of anger or for attention, but has simply become used to speaking in such a fashion. Ask your child to use an acceptable replacement word immediately after swearing. Constantly having to say the acceptable word helps the child’s brain select this word in the first place instead of the swear word. For instance, if the child has the habit of using a short expletive meaning “horse manure,” you can ask him or her to then say, “darn!” or “shoot!” or something similar. In this way, you are training a new, more acceptable habit.