Recently a mum was telling me how her 5-year-old daughter, in a casual kitchen setting, called her a Mothef*@#%^ when she refused her another strawberry as she still had some on her plate.
Needless to say, this mum was gobsmacked. This word had never been used in their house and she wanted to know where her daughter had learnt it and what to do about it (as falling on the ground in hysterics was probably not her best parenting choice).
Social norms have shifted so much in the last 20 to 30 years. Some words that were considered really bad are widely accepted today – ‘bugger’ was used in a TV ad campaign a few years ago, something that would have been unheard of in the past.
In days gone by women never swore and now women of all ages are much more relaxed around swearing.
I am far too relaxed and swear a lot and partially blame my ‘part bloke’ identity. Profanities and expletives are very much a part of modern society and the healthy boundaries around workplaces, social settings and online are often blurry so it’s unrealistic for us to expect our kids to NEVER swear.
There are more and more formerly inappropriate words in children’s films and cartoons – so this is why we really need to have a game plan ready before the first F bomb is dropped!
You can raise kids who don’t swear – they are often lambs, or our more gentle sensitive children. For others working out when and how to swear in a way that offends as few people as possible is a goal we can aim for.
‘Potty’ mouthed kids who swear are not born, sadly. Language acquisition is a normal process that evolves throughout childhood and so often a child will merely copy the words grown-ups use – or other potty mouthed kids – without any understanding.
The best strategies with this innocent swearing, no matter how bad the words are, is to avoid laughing out loud – as it can be quite funny in the moment!
The same goes with going in too hard with growling or expressing your shock. Possibly the best option is a quiet request to avoid using that word or term as it’s a bad word because it can upset people.
Be very clear about the WHERE – and NEVER use swear words at school, in front of people you don’t know, or at the shops or at grandma’s.
Be careful you haven’t exploded when your son struggled with pronouncing a similar word. One of my lads had knocked out a front tooth very early and had terrible problems with saying ‘truck’ – yep he simply couldn’t say ‘t’ or ‘r’ however he could say ‘f’. I am sure there were adults who thought I was lax when he would ask for his truck!
Using potty terms like ‘bum head’, ‘poo face’, and ‘asshole’ are considered normal as children get used to their body parts and often they grow through this if you mostly ignore it and keep gently reminding them they are not OK words especially when name-calling.
Helping our children learn about context around swearing is also helpful. Many people swear more when they are angry, frustrated or shocked.
So what do we do when our kids keep swearing and dropping what are considered to be seriously bad swear words?
I had my mouth washed out with soap in preschool when a boy ran me down with a 3 wheeler bike deliberately. I had older brothers and the word I used in response was in perfect context – for a grown up! Sadly this technique seldom improves the problem as it’s more about using punitive punishment than teaching other ways to express ourselves in big ugly moments.
A swear jar has limited success too, however it makes all family members more mindful of swearing and that’s not a bad thing.
Some more useful strategies can be modelling expressive words when you are angry, frustrated and have been surprised. Words like ‘Freak!’, ‘Flip’,‘ OMG!’, ‘Yikes’! ‘Shivers!’ ‘Bugger! ’’Darnit’ can be good. Perhaps avoid using words like Jesus – even though it is heard a lot it can be very offensive for some.
If you use a swear word that you are not OK with apologise immediately, so that your kids can also see they can apologise when they muck up.
Don’t tell fibs that you don’t swear if you do – as that encourages them to tell fibs about swearing and other things.
Acknowledge and encourage them when they use words that show big feelings that are appropriate.
Give them 3 warnings – as so often swearing is unplanned – and then if it persists they lose something significant that they value – so you create a consequence that shows that continued swearing will see them lose that privilege.
For the consistently, deliberate potty mouthed child, who is often a spirited child, I suggest you instigate an immediate loss of privileges.
The deprivation needs to be something they really LOVE and it needs to be IMMEDIATE. This is called tough love. Some gentle reminders while they are in the zone of consequences can also help – especially if they are boys.
It’s a classic parenting dilemma raising your kids to know when and where they can use language that helps us be expressive and, heck let’s be honest, much bloody funnier.
This article was originally published in Parenting Ideas magazine.