What to Do About Bad Language

Updated on November 05, 2008
S.J. asks from McKinleyville, CA
18 answers

Lately my children have been testing the limits big time when it comes to using inappropriate language. So far it is at home with each other and not at school, thank goodness! I feel like My three year old is just modeling her older siblings and my six year old just loves the attention from it. At this point I am not sure of the best way to deal with it. Sometimes I feel like if I make too big a deal of it they will do it more, but if I ignore it it will continue.

What can I do next?

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J.T.

answers from San Francisco on

Ah, the joys of motherhood...

What I did was tell my kids that they could use ANY language they wanted, as long as no younger kids or no adults could hear them. If they used that language in front of me or younger children, they would get a time out -- immediately.

It worked. The mystery of bad language faded if they couldn't use it to get my attention!

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N.T.

answers from San Francisco on

My 5 year old has just starting saying HELL.. Like you scared the hell of out of me, or what the hell..I have told him not to say it and I have warned him 3 times as well as explained why is not nice to say... But I also I say hell a lot so now I am watching what I say.. The next time he says it, there will be consequences.. I would say keep on them about it, and make consequences when they say foul language.

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A.A.

answers from San Francisco on

I taught my girls early on that cuss words sound ugly coming out of their mouths. I say people who use them frequently are uneducated and people see them as stupid. I never made a big fuss or yelled, I was just consistent whenever it showed up which wasn't often. I would also sometimes ask them if they knew what that meant, because sometimes they didn't realize what they were saying.

Now my 12 year old will occasionally slip up and say one of the minor words that I imagine she now uses with her friends sometimes and I just remind her I'm her mom and I don't like to hear her use those words. Out of respect for me or any other adult, it's not appropriate. She apologizes and we continue our conversation. No big deal. Again, it happens rarely because she knows how I feel about it, she just sometimes forgets she's talking to "mom" not a friend.

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D.C.

answers from Fresno on

I can't say my husband and I have the cleanest mouths, though we try. Our solution was to tell our daughter she could only use certain words at home and nowhere else. And, we don't make a big deal about it if she uses them at home. No reaction = big decline in the use of the words. There's only one she's ever said outside the house, and now she's not allowed to use that word at all anymore (and she doesn't).

Now, if she just says a word over and over again (only happened once), we tell her to stop as that's not how the word is used (it's the word she can't say anymore). She hasn't done that since.

Funny story ... one day I was home sick, so my husband picked my daughter up from my parents' (they watch her when she's not in school). As soon as she walked in the door, she said "[email protected]____.com!" It seems she had been wanting to say that ALL day, but knew she couldn't say it anywhere but home. She got it out of her system and that was it. LOL

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K.M.

answers from San Francisco on

I heard the best piece of advice from a mom here once: Only give attention to the victim. When the older one uses bad language to get your attention, run in and pick up the younger one and walk away with her. The first time or two you could say "Poor baby to have to hear that kind of language". After the first couple times, if she uses the language again, just pick up the littler ones and remove them. It might work...

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T.G.

answers from San Francisco on

S. J,
When I was younger, I was told that bad words are just that, words. There is a time and a place to use them. (Better than hitting!!)
What we had was "Swear word Friday."
It went like this: No swearing anytime except Friday at dinner. Not at school, not at home, not anywhere. However, dinnertime was a free for all. The "fun" of swearing would wear off after about 5 minutes and everyone got a good laugh. If you slipped up during the week though, there would be consequences. We would have to put a quarter in a jar for every "slip up." We looked forward to Fridays and this took the power out of the "bad" words.
After a while, we just grew out of it because we knew that it was no big deal.
Hope this helps.

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N.S.

answers from San Francisco on

I can't believe all the reponses that let their children say them in private places or pick dinner time to say them, that was a shock, really dinner time? I just tell my kids firmly that those words are bad and unacceptable, they can hurt peoples feelings. If I hear them they will get soap in their mouth or even chili because we always have that in our home. Never had to use them because they knew that this was serious and I wasn't going to tolerate it. I grew up using stupid and stuff like that, nothing extreme, but now that I have my own family and creating a loving and respectful home, I wouldn't like it if the siblings spoke like that with each other calling eachother stupid. good luck and put some fear into them, they need that. Too many parents these days fear their kids (teens mostly)instead of the other way around.

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K.G.

answers from San Francisco on

My sister and I got hot red pepper on our tongues when we said swear words. I hated it. I've tried this method with one of my daughters, and just like that. No more bad words.

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A.T.

answers from Stockton on

How the heck do these little buggers know that certain words are bad?? My son picked up "Dick-head" from my hubby aimlessly channel surfing - the word was said he immediately change channels and our son started chanting it and dancing around the room.
I have expalined to my son that some words are naughty and some words are ugly or mean. I don't allow him to say stupid along with whatever other bad words he picks up. He came home from his ex daycare cursing in Spanish?? ( we speak french )
We had to give him time-outs, etc. when he was 2 up through 3 and now he tattles on us when we use bad words. He called Grandma when I told his dad to shut up.
He goes to a great daycare that teaches respect and compassion and that really helps too, to get reinforcement from his peers and his teachers.
Also, I've found you have to be REALLY careful with movies. Transformers is my son's favorite movie - thanks to his dad - and it is PG13 so it's go a lot of gratuitous cursing and a 5 minute dialog about masturbating. I let him watch it but I hit the MUTE button and skip a few scenes.
All of the PG movies from the 1980's are pretty bad too because there was no PG13 yet. I bought "Short Circuit" for him because he loves robots and it's full of bad words - we threw it out.
The best thing to do - for my kid anyway is to talk about the word calmly - don't give it power - explain what it means if it's appropriate - like dummy is the same as stupid...
Ignore a word the first time - act like it's gibberish , if you hear it again then address the word and give a warning that there will be consequences if you hear it again.

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J.K.

answers from Fresno on

You have to nip it in the bud right now and everytime you here it. Be strong and consistent. Put them in timeout and make them apologize after. Tell them if they cant say nice words then they wioll lose something.

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E.C.

answers from San Francisco on

Try the book "Elbert's Bad Word" by Audrey Wood. It's a picture book that describes the misadventures of a young boy who accidentally "catches" a bad word that he overhears at a grown ups garden party. The bad word is drawn as a small fuzzy monster sitting on his shoulder that unexpectedly jumps out when he hurts his toe, and all sorts of chaos ensues. His parents try all sorts of remedies until finally a wizard tells him he "caught a bad word" and teaches him to find other words that "sparkle and crackle" to express his feelings instead of the bad word. What I like about the story is that it's non-threatening - doesn't accuse the child of being 'bad', yet shows that using inappropriate language has consequences (maybe not as comically exaggerated as the ones in the story) and that there are other ways to express oneself without needing to use inappropriate words. Plus the illustrations are hilarious and IMHO having a good dose of humor, as Mary Poppins might say, helps this "medicine go down".
http://www.amazon.com/Elberts-Bad-Word-Audrey-Wood/dp/015...

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P.W.

answers from San Francisco on

Do you know where your 6 year old is getting it from?

I think the best approach is somewhere in between ignoring it and making a big deal about it. I've never made a huge deal about bad language, because I would rather have them "rebel" in such a minor way.

When I hear bad language coming from my 14 year old (straight A) son's room, I yell "language!!" down the hall, and he says sorry and cools it a little bit. That's about all the attention I think that subject deserves.

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K.O.

answers from Salinas on

Dear S. J
When my son was that age he loved the taste of "bad words" in his mouth. He also loved the power they held, to shock and to get attention. I told him that words only have as much power as you give them and that he was "allowed" to use those words ONLY if he used them into the toilet where they belonged. There were days when we'd walk past the bathroom and hear "sh*@, sh*@, sh*@" flush over and over again! I think what it did was take away the power AND make him aware and concious of exactly what he was saying and (for a six year old) where it was appropriate. He is now 25 and has a larger vocabulary which includes a few swear words I'm sure, but they are not the bulk of it. Good luck with the "potty words", K.

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K.M.

answers from San Francisco on

Speaking as a special ed teacher who has dealt with A LOT of challenging behaviors, since it seems to be an attention issue, take away the attention for it. One of the most novel ways I've heard about for doing this is to tell your children if they want to use potty language, they can go use it in the potty to their heart's content. By isolating them someplace that's not particularly rewarding (and making sure you reward your other kids at the same time by doing something fun with them or praising them) you take the joy out of the behavior (your reaction and their sibling's reaction.) Once they've gotten it out of their system (and expect them to try volume, repetition, and more), you can have a brief but not emotionally huge discussion about how inappropriate words make people feel bad. It might take a few times but if you consistently take away the reward for the behavior (attention) and GIVE attention for more appropriate behavior, the "bad" words should go away, too.

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S.A.

answers from San Francisco on

We lately had the same issue with our 4 year old who learned a "super duper bad word" from his 6 year old brother, who learned it from a child at school with an older sibling. I first tried to ignore it, but it continued and got worse. I then tried rationalizing and explaining why that was not a good word to use. Didn't work. Then I tried time outs. Didn't work. I then took TV away. Didn't work. I then tried soap in the mouth (modestly). Didn't work. My final attempt was hot sauce - it worked. It's been about 1 month and we've been free of the "super duper bad word". This is not what I wanted to resort to but after all else failed...... Also - I tried it on myself first to make sure it wasn't going to be one of those incidents that would cause counseling later on in life............. Best of luck!

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C.B.

answers from San Francisco on

When I had a problem with my granddaughter I told her that when she spoke like that it was ugly and no one has to deal with her ugliness so she had to go to her room. I pointed out that she was only a small part of the world and that the world as a whole would not put up with someone speaking like that so until she could speak nicely, she had to stay in her room. I did not make a big deal about it. I explained it the first time. The next time I simply said 'you're acting ugly. go to your room" and that was it. No more attention; no big deal; just go to your room. I only had to do it twice.

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D.J.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi S.,

We have a rule at our house. You are allowed to ask one time if a word or phrase is bad or inappropriate or what something means. If it is bad or inappropriate and you use it after they know the rule, you get your mouth washed ou with soap.

I am really strict about it so that they do not start using it at school. Also, my husband and I have been really careful since birth to use appropriate language. (This can be very hard and the grandparents were the first to slip.)

We talk about the bad and inappropriate language so that it is not a taboo that they want to do later, but they need to understand that it is not acceptable in any circumstances and that other children do not have the same rules we do.

I hope this helps.

D.

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B.R.

answers from Sacramento on

I love some of these answers! The only one I don't think I've seen yet is to substitute. Find a word that is more appropriate and keep reminding the child whenever they slip up. For example, our grandchildren are replacing "stupid" with "ridiculous". Their mother considers "Oh gosh" to be too much like "oh God", so they are substituting "oh my goodness". We all have individual tolerance levels for language, so what bothers one parent may not matter to another, but you have to figure out what works and maybe use a combination of several methods to put a stop to hearing the words you don't like.
I had to laugh about the person who thought the worst "F" word referred to passing gas, because our son-in-law tells us his mother accepted the "F" word most of us hate, but to this day he doesn't dare use the one for passing gas around her. (I find this makes me extra careful when she's around too, because I use that "F" word readily!)

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