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

by Amy McCready

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.

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About the Author
Amy McCready
Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of “If I Have To Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program To Get Kids To Listen Without Nagging, Reminding, or Yelling”. (Penguin, 2011). She is a regular contributor on The TODAY Show and has also appeared on Rachael Ray, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, and elsewhere. As a “recovering yeller,” Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happy families and well-behaved kids. Her award-winning online course empowers parents worldwide to correct their kids’ misbehaviors without nagging, reminding or yelling. Amy is a sought after keynote speaker and trusted spokesperson for family-friendly brands. In her most important role, she plays mom to two teenage boys. Follow Amy on Twitter. Connect with Amy.
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