Swear you won’t use that again!

Did your little one just curse out loud? It’s important not to overreact, DR RICHARD C. WOOLFSON cautions.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Age by stage 3-4 years
My Reading Room

Your child just blurted out the F-word. Now, you have to discourage this and explain why he shouldn’t be using such rude language. Here are our top 10 tips:

Keep things in perspective

Like it or not, it’s almost inevitable that your preschooler is exposed to foul language at some point, whether he overhears an adult utter the F-word when something goes wrong, or is in earshot when his older sister exclaims “I don’t give a sh**” because she’s told she can’t do something. So, don’t panic.

Accept that this is normal

No matter how hard you try to protect Junior from such influences, he will almost certainly ask you one day what these words mean or possibly even use such words in front of you.

In that sense, this is normal behaviour for a child this age – it doesn’t mean you are facing a terrible problem. Understand his lack of inhibition Your four-yearold is engrossed in everything he sees and hears, and asks questions without fear.

That’s why he isn’t embarrassed to ask you what swear words mean, nor is he self-conscious about using them himself. He’s interested in bad language because he heard it somewhere else.

My Reading Room
He thinks that by using what he perceives as a grown-up mannerism, he’ll become more mature himself.

Recognise his fascination

He is probably intrigued by swearing precisely because he knows these words are used by older children or adults; he thinks that by using what he perceives as a grown-up mannerism, he’ll become more mature himself. Most children like to imitate their elders.

Give gentle, but firm disapproval

He already knows that foul language has a strong effect on other people and that, most times, it provokes a very powerful reaction. In his eyes, swearing may be seen as something that is both exciting and desirable.

Give a measured response

When you hear him swear or when he asks you what these words mean, you’ll probably be caught off guard, and may be shocked or embarrassed by this unexpected display of foul language. However, stay calm. Remember that he doesn’t use those words in the way an adult does.

Realise that his understanding is limited

He is genuinely unaware of the true meaning of the words he just uttered, and he could become frightened by an extremely negative response from you. So sit him down, and tell him clearly that you are unhappy with his use of these words and that you want him to stop saying them.

Give an explanation

Since he already has a reasonable idea of the distinction between good and bad, and between right and wrong, he’ll understand when you explain the distinction between a “good” word and a “bad” word. Tell him that neither kids nor adults should use those “bad” words, whether at home, in the playground or on the street.

Outline the consequences

Explain that you’ll be very unhappy with him, his friends’ parents might not want them to play with him, and he may not get invited to children’s parties if they think he is going to use this sort of language.

Consider your language

You can’t prevent your kid from ever hearing others swear, yet setting a good example yourself at home will be a good help. You’ll have an easier time presenting a convincing case against swearing when your own home is a cuss-free environment. So reduce – or eliminate – your use of bad language in front of him.

More: language words