How to Keep Your Toddler From Cursing Like a Sailor

Once your toddler starts talking, it's hard to get her to stop. Soon enough, she'll start associating words with the reaction they get, even if she's not quite sure what they mean. The first time she drops that F-bomb, you might be completely taken aback. After all, your cherub-cheeked baby couldn't possibly know what that means, right?

Chances are, she doesn't. But if you express shock or even laughter, you've given her the kind of reaction she's going to want to get again. So she might continue to use that inappropriate word -- on the playground, at preschool, at church, in the supermarket.

The good news is there's a way to curb cursing before it gets worse. Here's how to handle it, according to Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in Lincoln, Maine.


How to Keep Kids From Cursing

  1. Don't laugh. "The more attention you give it, the worse it can get," says Morin. As tempting as it may be to burst out into giggles, doing so might actually hurt in the long run. If your child starts associating cursing with humor, then they'll continue to do it for the attention. Every little guy wants to be a comedian, so don't give them this opportunity.
  2. Ask if they know what it means. Chances are, they heard someone say it but don't necessarily know the entire context. Whether it was a family member or a classmate at school, someone around them uttered it and your kiddo put it in their vocab bank. More often than not, they won't actually know the definition, so make that clear.
  3. Tell them it's a naughty word. If they don't realize it's a bad word, simply tell them it is and explain that "it's not a word we use," says Morin. If they're old enough, let them know the meaning behind the word and carefully clarify that it's not a kind word to use at or about other people.
  4. Make changes yourself. "Never say, 'I can do it but you can't,'" says Morin. "Parents who swear have kids who swear." Watch your own language. So often, kids will parrot exactly what you say, so that means cutting down your f-bombs and s-bombs. Save that for girls' night out.
  5. Explain different expectations. Sometimes, yelling "crap" when you've dropped something is acceptable (hey, we all do it), but let them know that it's not ok in every situation. At school, at other people's homes, at the grocery store, not everyone will be as cool with them uttering some non-G-rated phrases. Let them know that if they curse at a friend's house, maybe they won't be invited back, says Morin.
  6. Give them alternatives. Shit and fuck are out. But let them say "dang" or "crud" when they stub their toe, says Morin. Sometimes you just need to let out a little frustration, but make sure it's appropriate. 
  7. Swear jar. If it's bad, make them put a quarter in every single time they utter a bad word. And that goes for you too. Don't think you're an exception just because you started that jar. "And make it something they can't benefit from," says Morin. "I know people who made the swear jar a vacation fund and that backfired quickly. The kids just kept on swearing so they could go to Disney World." Instead, have the money be donated to charity. 
  8. Reward good behavior. "Catch them when they use a good word," says Morin. Let them know when they're doing something correctly instead of always catching the bad ones. 

How do you handle cursing in your home?


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