700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

What to Do When Your Child Swears

Nov 08, 2021
Father and son sitting on a couch.

Swearing used to be the forbidden words we only heard when our ears were against our parents’ door. Now, what were once considered rude and offensive words can be heard everywhere. We hear these words out in public, through the television and on social media daily. It’s almost as common as hearing, “Hey, how are you doing?”

As parents, we can decide which words are acceptable for our children to use and which words we want to remain forbidden. First, we must realize that there are a few reasons why children swear or use rude and offensive words. Children may use swear words because they have heard adults use them, they are frustrated or angry and don’t have the skills to express themselves, to show they are tough or to bully others. If swearing gets them what they want, which is likely attention, it will continue.

So, how do we discourage and manage swearing?

Set a Good Example

The days of “do as I say, not as I do” are over. The primary way that children learn is by watching others and imitating what others, especially their parents, are doing and saying. You cannot expect your child not to swear, if swearing is what you model. If you cannot stop swearing in front of your child, decide on words that you will allow your child to use.

Use “Planned Ignoring”

This strategy is good the first time your child uses a swear word. Give it no attention, and do not respond or look at your child. If your child does not get a reaction or attention for using the swear word, it may stop.

If swearing continues, try the following suggestions:

Discuss the Problem With Your Child and Talk About Consequences

When everyone is calm, talk with your child about swearing. Describe why swearing is an issue, which words are inappropriate, which words are acceptable to use and what consequences (like the loss of a privilege or activity) will be given if inappropriate words are used. If they use an inappropriate word, follow through with the consequence.

Praise Your Child for Using Acceptable Words

When your child uses the appropriate words you choose in advance, praise them. Give attention to the behaviors you want to continue. You can also praise your child if they went the whole day without using a swear word.

Follow Through With Your Plan

If you hear your child swear, tell them the problem and then follow through with the consequence. Ignore complaints and do not argue or debate with your child. Initially, this may need to be repeated until your child recognizes that there will always be a consequence.

If you are looking for more tips around positive parenting, Nationwide Children’s Hospital offers free Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) support on a wide variety of topics for parents of young children. For more information, click here, email TripleP@NationwideChildrens.org or call (614) 355-8099.  

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.