As a child’s vocabulary and understanding grows, he learns many new words and is often eager to repeat them.
In the midst of all this new language, children can’t help but overhear some bad words as well. It may come from older siblings, daycare or school, TV, or listening to parents and other adults. These words are likely to be tested, the same as any other new word.
The easiest way for parents to control the use of bad words is to control their own response.
Sometimes the first impulse of adults is to snicker when they hear a child, especially one very young, repeat an inappropriate word or phrase. They may think this is harmless, as the child does not know what she is saying.
But in doing so, they have shown the child that this word has a special meaning, and she will want to repeat it often for the same positive response. However, she may find that when she says the word again, the reaction is not so positive, and this can be very confusing.
Parents may feel embarrassed or angry when their child uses a swear word, especially if other adults are present. They may respond with timeouts, taking away privileges or even threats of washing the child’s mouth out with soap.
Once again, however, this gives the bad word a lot of power. The child may know better than to say it again in front of his parent, but chances are he will share this new power with his friends.
It is important to remember that, while the child may have an understanding that the word is forbidden, she doesn’t grasp the meaning of the word or why it is not appropriate.
When you do hear a bad word come out of your child’s mouth, react as calmly as you can. Simply saying, "We don’t use that word in our family," may be enough. There is no need for a punishment, and no value is given to the word itself. Of course, you need to follow through with that rule and make sure you do not use the word in your home.
If your child has already tested the word and gotten a reaction, try giving him an alternate word to use. Something silly like, "Oh, fish sticks!" or "Holy crabapple!" will likely get a positive response and he has the satisfaction of making an impact with words.
As a child’s language skills develop, she will find many ways to express her feelings and thoughts. By reacting calmly to words you don’t want her to use, you are helping her learn to communicate in an appropriate and effective way.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers
parenting information and support.
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