Why Swearing In Kids Is Okay (and How To Do It)
Is Swearing Really That Bad?
We zoomed out of the neighborhood…and stopped.
It was rush hour in a city with over 8 million people.
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.
‘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:
Is Swearing Bad For Our Kids?
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.
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?
Don’t overestimate community values. Everybody swears.
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?
How to Handle Swearing Like a Pro
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
Was she angry? Was he provoked? Seeking attention? (Bullying should never be tolerated, but get the whole story first.)
Bring attention to your child’s emotional state. It’s an important lesson in teaching kids about empathy.
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).
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.
Give Me One Good Reason I Should Listen to You.
This is crazy talk. Why should I even consider allowing swear words in my home?
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.)