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Potty Talk to Swearing…10 Tips to Curb Foul Language in Your House

10 ways to curb potty talk and swearing

All children experiment with “offensive” language. Toddlers may use “poopie head” or “butt face” and older kids can be more colorful and offensive in their use of language. Follow these 10 tips to curb cursing and potty talk in your house…

    1. Make sure children have plenty of positive ways to get attention and power. A child who has sufficient positive attention and opportunities to exercise power in positive ways, doesn’t have to use offensive language to get attention and power.

    2. For younger kids, teach them the appropriate names for body parts and use them conversationally to remove the excitement of using those words.

    3. Monitor TV, video, music lyrics and Internet usage. Kids see and hear much more than we did when we were growing up. If you’re not comfortable with the back talk you hear coming from your television, have a candid conversation about that with your kids or make that show off-limits in your house.

    4. Don’t over-react! Kids use offensive language to get a rise out of you and engage you in a power struggle. When you get upset, they score a big payoff of attention and power and just about guarantees that they’ll use the word again!

    5. Be very clear about what words are okay and not okay in your family… “You may hear other kids say that word but it’s not okay in our family.”

    6. For older kids who swear…try to understand where it’s coming from. Are they trying to fit in or act cool? Do they struggle to express their anger in appropriate ways? If the swearing stems from anger, validate the feelings but suggest other ways to communicate their anger… “I can tell you’re really angry about this and I would love to talk to you about this when you’ve calmed down and we can have a respectful conversation.”

    7. Decide what YOU will do. You can’t “make” a child stop using potty talk or stop swearing. (You may try, but you really can’t.) Instead, decide what YOU will do when you hear offensive language. Let your child know that when you hear disrespectful language, you will turn around and walk away without saying a word. (This removes the “payoff” for the behavior.) Walking away without words isn’t letting him “get away” with foul language, it’s saying, “I deserve to be treated with respect and I choose not to listen to potty talk/swearing.” Our actions speak much louder than our ongoing lectures.

    8. Consequences…parents often ask about the “related” consequence for swearing. Some parents use a “swearing jar” requiring the child to donate a quarter or a dollar each time he swears and then donating that money to a charity. I like an idea shared by Michele Borba, Ed.D. in which she requires the offender use the dictionary to look up a new, more appropriate word to replace the offensive one. The child can be asked to use that new word throughout the day in conversation or write it on an index card and teach it to the rest of the family.

    9. Encourage your kids when you see them making any progress in the right direction. When you hear your toddler using the appropriate terms for body parts or using jokes (instead of potty words) to get attention – make a point of encouraging her “grown up” ways. Encourage older kids when they express their frustration without using offensive language. Even if they haven’t curbed their foul language completely, encourage ANY movement in the right direction.

    10. And of course, watch your own language. Speak respectfully to your kids and to your spouse and model appropriate language. Kids are keenly sensitive to double standards. If it’s okay for you to swear, they don’t understand why it isn’t okay for them.

If swearing and foul language becomes more frequent and increasingly offensive, parents should recognize that it’s not about the “swearing.” Most likely, the child is using bad language as a potent tool to engage them in a power struggle or is using it as a revenge tool against the parents. At this point, it’s time to dig deeper and determine what’s really behind the behavior.

4 Comments
  1. I am shocked that there aren’t any comments on this issue. My three year old heard the big “f-bomb” once and now says it when she isn’t being heard by her big sister. How can I get my older daughter to listen earnestly, and try to help, rather than getting mad at her and tattling?

  2. It’s really good timing that I read this post – my godmother and godsister just came up with a good solution, the “Tacky Box.” It’s a beautiful storybook and actual box that kids can decorate and use to “lock away” any tacky words. It worked for them, might be a good solution for others.

  3. Great post! My three year old picked up “Shut Up” from a children’s movie… I am having a very hard time getting him to understand that saying it isn’t ok. He definitely uses it to get negative attention!

  4. What do I do when my 9 year old is getting caught swearing at school on a regular basis? He isn’t swearing in front of us, his parents. He is teaching his little brother(6) every word he knows and their meanings. He doesn’t get an allowance, so a jar isn’t effective. I am at a loss as to what to do.

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