When Your Kid Says a Curse Word
Are you one of those people who thinks it’s cute when kids slip up and say a bad word? If so, you’re not alone: one video montage of kids saying bad words on YouTube garnered 1.5 million views in 2012. Another titled “funny cursing kids” raked in more than 2 million views on YouTube, and counting. It might not be your fault. Popular culture has been grooming adults to laugh at this for years with inserted scenes of pre-adolescent profanity in movies like The Goonies, Adventures in Babysitting, The Breakfast Club, Bad News Bears and, of course, A Christmas Story.
You may be inclined to chuckle after hearing your toddler mutter his first curse word or scatological reference, but the first step to handling the situation like a parenting pro is to keep a strong poker face. Restrain your urge to laugh out loud, which could of course reinforce your child’s mistaken behavior. When it comes to responding to your child’s first curse word performance, no response can be the best response.
Because usually if you hear a kid cursing in public, adults are inertly thinking one thing: where is that kid’s parents and what is wrong with them? Most people see a child cursing a reflection of his parent’s teachings (or shortcomings). But according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), children muttering a curse word or two could most likely be seen as an honest mistake in their learning about the social uses of language. NAEYC addresses swearing as innocent errors in judgment by children as they learn how to talk, rather than purposefully or vindictively using words that are hurtful.
They might also just be picking it up. The truth is, our kids are little sponges, absorbing everything what we say and sometimes saying it right back to us. If your kiddos are cursing, it could be because they heard you or someone else in the family use an expletive and they’re simply mimicking what they heard around the house.
“It is natural for children to model language that they hear. That is how they learn and make sense of their world! Children experiment with words they hear in conversation, on television and through reading books,” said Kiddie Academy’s Director of Curriculum Renee Thompson.
“Parents should not overreact or punish a child for cursing. Instead, calmly ask the child where he or she heard the word and what he or she thinks the word means. Then explain that there are some words that they may hear, but they do not have permission to use. That “word” is one such example. Most children will accept this explanation and move on if it is handled calmly.”
NAEYC suggests teachers to intervene if they hear a child misstep with the wrong words. They advise teachers to, “Intentionally look for the occasions (teachable moments) when a child uses expletives or hurting words” and try to intervene in a friendly but firm way. But as parents, it can be a challenge just to hide a laugh, let alone correct the behavior. After all, it can seem contradictory to scold your child for saying words you might use yourself quite regularly, however inappropriate it may be.
“The last thing a parent should do is laugh, encourage the child to repeat the word for someone else, or retell the story to another adult in front of the child,” continued Thompson. ‘If the child sees him or herself as being funny or clever in the eyes of the adult, of course he or she may repeat the behavior for a similar response. Similarly, a child should not be punished for breaking a rule that was unknown to him or her. Use this as a teaching opportunity.”
Stay strong, and try to show, rather than tell, so your children can model your behavior and you can avoid scolding your child for something that could have – at best – been a mistake, and – at worst – been a copycat incident.