Family

Young children and swearing

Dear Diane, My six-year-old is generally quite sweet-natured, but recently he’s been using swear words a lot – bad ones, too.
family, parenting, children who swear

Dear Diane,

My six-year-old is generally quite sweet-natured, but recently he’s been using swear words a lot – bad ones, too. I’m not really sure if he knows what they mean but he definitely knows they’re bad. Should I be paying attention and fuelling this bad behaviour, emphasising how bad the words are, or ignore it? I’m certain he picked them up from school. His father and I don’t swear in front of him, so he knows it’s a big deal. I’m just worried that if I make a big deal about how naughty he’s being, he’ll just enjoy saying them all the more. I’d love to hear your advice on this.

Maggie, by email

Dear Maggie,

Most of us, like you, are somewhat bewildered as to how our children magically pick up words that are never used at home. However, no matter where the words come from, if they are not acceptable in our hearing, our children need to be told this and given appropriate consequences for their actions. In my experience, inappropriate behaviour rarely goes away by being ignored. If we want to stop a particular pattern, we need to take definite action. You don’t need to make a big deal out of the situation. Just be quietly determined, in your own mind, that you are never going to hear those words out of your son’s mouth without a swift and sure response.

The quickest way to teach your son verbal self-control is a predictable, consistent and inconvenient consequence for every time he uses a swear word. Fines and loss of electronic time work well but are rather difficult to administer. The simplest and most effective way to stop the behaviour is to put him in “exile” for 10 minutes immediately every time he utters a swear word. This usually inconveniences him far more than you and he will learn to control (what my children refer to as) his “potty mouth”. If this doesn’t work, you could try removing pocket money. They will soon get the picture and start to clean up their language.

Diane Levy provides expert answers to your parenting queries. Send your questions to: [email protected] Diane’s parenting books are available in book shops.

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