October 5

18 comments

Why Swearing In Kids Is Okay (and How To Do It)

By Devishobha

October 5, 2015

child behavior, Child Development, language, parent smarter

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We zoomed out of the neighborhood…and stopped.

It was rush hour in a city with over 8 million people.

Depressed female driver LiesAboutParenting.com

I forgot. (Oops.)

With horns honking and tires that were stuck like wet mud, we sat in traffic in Bangalore, India.

I was trying to remain calm in front of the kids, but inside I was saying, “Move. For the love of God. Now!

That’s when my 4-year-old tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mom, say ‘IDIOT’!”

‘Idiot’ is the magic word I say in the car that makes us move, according to my daughter.

If only.

‘Idiot’ isn’t the worst word ever, but it’s also not a respectful one.

To kids, that's a swear word. Which makes me wonder:

[thrive_headline_focus title=”Is Swearing Bad For Our Kids?” orientation=”left”]

Hell, no.

Kids swear. And they should.

Here’s 4 reasons why swearing can be hella-good for your kid.

1. Cussing Helps Communication.

“…swearing evolved and persists because taboo words can communicate emotional information (anger, frustration) more readily than non-taboo words, allowing speakers to achieve a variety of personal and social goals with them (utility)”, according to researcher Timothy Jay.

Big words. In plain English, swear words help us communicate feelings and emotions.

Added bonuses are extraversion and pain-tolerance.

2. That Sh*t is Here to Stay.

Timothy also notes the use of 10 ‘bad’ words have remained stable over the past 20 years.

Did you know 10 words account for 80% of public swearing?

Makes sense.

Don’t overestimate community values. Everybody swears.

Swearing in Kids Silly Faces LiesAboutParenting.com

3. It Ain’t No ‘Thang.

Kids pick up a swear word just like they pick up any other word. From parents, peers, older siblings, school, teachers, other adults, media, movies – even the customers standing in line behind you.

No one is safe.

Most children pick up 30-40 offensive words by the time they start school.

You heard me, stupid-face? 😉

4. Fists or Face?

Swear words are used to express every emotion from frustration to humour. They're also used for verbal abuse. Abuse isn't okay, but this article suggests, “Swearing can be an effective substitute for physical aggression.”

If your child is swearing, the question to ask is, “Why?” Everyone loses their temper. If the swearing is a valid emotional response, go with it.

Wouldn’t you rather see your kid vent with words than with fists?

(While we're on the topics of raising strong kids, hop over to our post on Sex Ed for the Real World or Things A Teacher Wishes You Knew.)

[thrive_headline_focus title=”How to Handle Swearing Like a Pro” orientation=”left”]

No one’s saying Little Johnny can curse like a sailor/solider/whatever-the-saying-is and expect to get away with it.

There’s a time and a place to let your kid express himself through negative words.

When do you let a swear word slide?

Here’s how to figure out your family’s swearing rules.

Two Questions to Ask

Ask ‘why’?

Was she angry? Was he provoked? Seeking attention? (Bullying should never be tolerated, but get the whole story first.)

Communication is key LiesAboutParenting.com

Bring attention to your child’s emotional state. It’s an important lesson in teaching kids about empathy.

Then ‘when’?

Young children squawk like parrots to see what kind of reaction they can get. Skip the confrontation.

As kids age, swearing is about testing limits, trying out new personalities, and exploring a big, sometimes-unfair world.

When and why matter.

Be a Stone-Face

If you want to guarantee your toddler uses swear words, react when they use them.

Your toddler is looking for a reaction - any reaction. Yes, she sounds so darn cute and funny, but smother that smile! All it takes is one time for them to know that a word can make you laugh.

Just act normally. Here’s a lovely account of how one father handled his son dropping the F-bomb.

That goes for if your kid if 2 or 20. Express disapproval through quiet disappointment (though never shaming).

Lies About Parenting | Ashley Trexler | Lazy Parenting Style

Make a Peace Offering

Kids get foot-stomping mad.

I get foot-stomping mad.

Make a peace offering. Offer up a not-so-bad bad word at home in exchange for a zero-tolerance policy outside the home.

Words help you vent and cool down faster.

Don’t expect more from your kid than you do of yourself.

The A-Okay List

Give them options to replace rude phrases. When my kids took to saying, “Shut up!” too much, I asked what’s the ruder phrase, “Shut up” or “Be Quiet?”

Be Quiet’ is allowed.

‘Shut up’ is not.

Create an “allowed list” list of words. ‘Idiot’, ‘Stupid’, and ‘Maddy Goose’ are some good words for younger children.

As children grow, the words will change. ‘Maddy Goose’ won’t have the same appeal to a tween.

Don’t bother.

[thrive_headline_focus title=”Give Me One Good Reason I Should Listen to You.” orientation=”left”]

This is crazy talk. Why should I even consider allowing swear words in my home?

Let Your Kids Swear | LiesAboutParenting.com

Simple. Swearing will bring your family closer.

Swearing in family circles is one way of breaking “normal” rules of society. It will increase intimacy. It lets your kids know you’re open to them, and creates a safe space.

Anthony Wolf, Clinical psychologist and author of the book, ‘I’d listen to My Parents If They’d Just Shut Up” puts a lot of emphasis on communication.

“…think twice before you pick up on the swearing and terminate what could have been a helpful conversation…” Wolf says. "You do run the risk of derailing a meaningful discussion in which your kid talks to you about a serious issue.”

I'll take a swear word and a good conversation any day over the alternative.

Set your standards for what's okay in the home and out of the home and stick to them.

Your family will thank you for it.

Oh, and kids? You're welcome. Just don't abuse the privilege.

Side note from Ashley: Damn right, that's an affiliate link to the book in the post. We like it and believe in it, which is why we're sharing it with you. Yes, pennies will be paid to Lies About Parenting if you purchase a copy, at no extra cost to you. (Full disclosure and all that jazz.) 
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About the author 

Devishobha

Devishobha believes that a happy childhood is a function of growing up with informed adults. Her resource site, www.Kidskintha.com, strives to present radical, research- grounded ideas on two important facets of a child's life- Parenting and Education. Meanwhile, watch out for her soon-to-be-launched Signature line of kid's merchandise inspired by everyday quips of children. She will also be pleased to say 'Hi' on Huffington Post.

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  1. My boys say what they want as long as it isn’t putting someone else down. They can say what the fuck. But they can’t say hey you little fucker. The point is expression without condescending. I treat them as naive equals when it comes to their opinions. Not as little pets to obey my every command. They get to choose their life but I get to choose what their choices are. Perceived to them as freedom of choice gives them confidence and the ability to think for themselves. They also can’t speak cuss words in public due to societies expectations.

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  2. I just don’t understand any of this. Call me old fashioned but swearing was never allowed in our home when I was growing up and I did not allow it of my children. Expecting a child to know when and where swearing is okay makes no sense. Children cannot be expected to control their impulses like an adult. What happens when your child comes home crying because they accidentally used profanity at a little friends house and are no longer allowed to play with that child? Or they become the outcast at school for using language other kids have been taught not to use? Nothing good is going to come from allowing a child to express the self in this manner.

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    1. Thanks for your insight, Joan. I completely see where you’re coming from. This is a certainly a very personal choice, and your concerns are valid. Each family has to do what’s best for them. For us, it’s more about educating our child about the ramifications of her actions. You swear at school, you get in trouble. And you know the funny thing? She doesn’t swear any more than any other I’ve met (and a lot less than many of them!). She might test something out, but she knows. It’s not expecting them to behave like adults; it’s autonomy. That said, I (again!) completely understand and respect your beliefs. But with today’s hyper-sexualized, media-based environment, I believe we have to allow our children the autonomy to learn–and that’s why I stand by not punishing children for swearing in the home and creating the opportunity for autonomy. Thanks again, Ashley

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  3. I guess this is a topic that none of us will all agree on. I let my child swear (yes the real bad ones), but he knows that there are rules attached. It’s fine just with us (his parents) and there are grey areas such as out in public but has to not be close to anyone else is OK. He also can only use a swear word if it suits the situation and is not directed at another person. He is in primary school and we’ve had the rules for a few years as decided this was better than banning swearing. As much as we like to think of our children as sweet and angelic the truth is that when around peers they behave differently and pick up words so easily. Myself and his father follow the same rules and we don’t swear very often.
    I find this strategy has worked well. He has great communication skills and is a well behaved student at school and would never consider swearing around teachers or others. He would never consider swearing in front people that would be easily offended on not at ease with it (such as his grandparents). I see lots of other kids outside playing or walking home from school that are around his age and the language that they use is atrocious and have no concern that others can hear them swearing, and seem to enjoy using swear words so others can hear. I wonder if the majority of these children are banned from swearing at home? I know its been my experience once something is banned it becomes the only thing the child wants to do. I can’t think of the last time I heard my child swear as he doesn’t really care about doing it because he’s allowed to if he wants.
    I feel its my job as his parent to teach him how to become a responsible adult and for me that means learning how to handle these responsibilities over time. While we always think of the normal responsibilities as always desirable activities such as learning at school, doing chores, helping others, perhaps the idea of teaching children how to be responsible with the less desirable aspects of life (eg swearing, drinking…) as these situations arise would help more than outright banning.

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  4. My kids are still young (1 and 3) and they speak mostly French (we live in Paris), so I’ve allowed myself to slip on bad words in English a little more than I should have (naughty me!). I know one of them is going to repeat one of those little gems any day now, so until I can get my mouth under control, this is great advice 🙂 Or even afterward, since we all know adults can slip up when least expected!

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  5. That is the most ridiculous article I have ever read. Children should learn to use appropriate, non-offensive language. There is an eloquence in speaking in a way that is socially acceptable and getting your point across. Frustration and anger should not be the excuses we use to allow our children to speak in obscenities. I suppose if the parents haven’t learned to control their speech, their children won’t either. Foul language is not tolerated or acceptable in our home. If our children can’t learn to reign in their emotions they are certainly at a disadvantage at school, at work and in the community. The words that come out of my children’s mouths, I teach them, should be words that emulate a relationship with God, respect for others, and respect for themselves.

    Reply

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Ginger. We’re in complete agreement that children should learn to use appropriate, non-offensive language. It’s difficult for children to learn how to “control their speech,” just as it is for parents to never swear. If you’ve managed to never swear in front of your kids, I stand in humble awe of you. You’ve done better than the rest of us and deserve acknowledgement for that feat! Each family has their own tolerance level, but you’re right, we all have to learn to be appropriate and respectful. I doubt anyone disagrees with you. But, sometimes we’re stressed. Sometimes we swear. Kids are no different. Indeed, children have less skills and tools to process their emotions and feelings. You’re right, it’s our job to teach them how to express themselves eloquently and appropriately. It’s also our job, many times, to just be there for them. And my family will continue to stand by our belief that the occasional, emotional outburst is welcome if it means my child is truly communicating with me. Thanks so much for bringing attention to your concerns. Your voice is heard and greatly appreciated.

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      1. HI Ginger,
        Thanks for the observation. The article seems to be in complete agreement with you- that we should encourage the use of appropriate words- even providing an example. However, what the article stresses on is that children are little humans with emotions; and if they are venting with a swear word; it is important to know the reason behind the reaction- rather than immediately pointing out the inappropriate behaviour. Thanks!

        Reply

  6. Great article! I was intrigued by the headline as my two year old has started saying “shit”! Makes me feel much better reading this! It’s made me realize how much I say it….among other words! He is using it appropriately though – when he hurts himself, he says a little “shit”. It is cute. We are keeping an eye on what we say ourselves so it doesn’t escalate but reading this makes me feel more relaxed. Thank you for the post!

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    1. Tracy,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment! It’s definitely a fine line between cute and uh-oh, isn’t it? 😉 Thanks for taking the post in the spirit with which it’s been offered – that not everything is black and white and learning to communicate takes time. And you can always scroll down to my dad’s comment…he rarely chimes in here but can assure everyone that teaching kids how and when to swear is possible and sometimes even a good thing! 😉

      Reply

  7. This article seems to be aimed at making parents feel better about their children swearing.

    Teach children to communicate effectively using appropriate words. If they don’t have the words to express what they are feeling, then teach them the words they need. Yes, I agree that communication brings families closer. That doesn’t equate to “swearing brings families closer”.

    “I’ll take a swear word and a good conversation any day over the alternative.”

    These options are not mutually exclusive. If your child swears that doesn’t mean you shut down conversation. You can discuss important issues while also teaching your child more effective ways of communicating.

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    1. Alex,

      In complete agreement with you! The article is aimed at making parents feel better about their children swearing – in certain situations. Not every situation. Learning how to communicate effectively is a life-long learning process. Children often lack the developmental resources to express their true feelings, and swearing is just one method of expression. We absolutely can and should teach our children to communicate using appropriate words and thank you for taking the time to point that out!

      Reply

  8. Can’t resist adding this. I lived in a neighborhood where it was necessary to cross a train track to get to stores. The trains were long, absurdly long. I found myself cussing them softly, inaudibly (I thought) as we waited and waited. At one point the Lies About Parenting founder was sitting with her very proper grandmother as a train approached. “Look, Ashley, a train!” She said. “No, not a train, Grandmom.” “Of course it is, dear.”…,,,”No, Grandmom, that’s a f—ing train. I think they’re different.” So endeth the lesson.

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    1. Glad you brought that up, my favorite father! 🙂 You and mom always made a point to teach us to respect others. I loved this article today because it reminded me of you. We could mutter a ‘bad’ word under our breath at home when frustrated and you would always explore the topic/issue/concern. Were we frustrated with a game? A person? Was there a better word we could have used? It’s an opening to a conversation and increased communication. Not an ending.

      It’s also a good reminder that we can be heard even when we think we can’t. 😉

      Reply

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