Limassol Therapy Center

Child and “bad words”: What to do with the child who speaks badly?

Why does a child swear?

Developmental stage

A child uses the “bad” words for the first time, at the age of 2.5 – 3 years. In this developmental stage, the child explores the world, people, things and words. This is part of the learning process. The child has ears to hear and a mouth to repeat what he/she hears.

Imitation Skills:

Children absorb any new information like a sponge. Words heard from classmates and relatives, passers-by or on TV are very easily reproduced by an infant. Children like to imitate and generally tend to use the “bad words” they hear from people they admire.

Receiving attention and showing independence to parents:

Children can perceive that swearing is a powerful tool with which they “control” those around them. Children in this way show parents that they are starting to grow up and their parents are not able to control everything.

Emotional Charging:

Children 2.5 – 3 years old are still young to filter the sounds and choose what to say or reject what should not. The younger the child, the less “aware” he/she is that the word he is using can be offensive and hurt other people’s feelings. Swearing are words with more emotional intensity than ordinary everyday words. And of course children “perceive” very easily the emotional tensions.

At an older age children may end up swearing systematically and in a very ugly way. They can also combine swearing with a more general aggressive behavior and swearing, thus expressing their anger and anxiety. In this case, it would be good to turn to a specialist for proper advice.

How do I handle it? What to do;

  1. Pay attention to the language you use in front of the child because she/he imitates you. If the child hears the “bad” words from school then it is important to talk to the teachers to address the issue within the school environment.
  2. If you want your child to stop saying “bad” words you should stop rewarding their behavior by showing that saying “bad” words is fun and funny. Avoid laughing and discourage others from laughing when they hear the child swearing.
  3. Apply the technique of “ignorance” especially to younger children. Ignore the fact completely. Ignore and pretend you did not hear anything. Paying attention every time a child says a bad word, there is a risk of starting a challenging game. With the technique of ignorance, the child is convinced that by speaking badly, he/she does not do something remarkable and is more likely not to repeat it. If he/she does, however, try to continue to be indifferent, always keeping your patience.
  4. Ask the child if he/she knows what the word he/she uses means and explain what that word means.
  5. The first time the “bad” word is said, you can ask the child in a calm tone and without voices where he/she heard it and explain that it is important to avoid saying the word because it is offensive or ugly. If you start shouting and threatening the child you will find it difficult to manage. It is better to leave the room where the child is or gently move him/her away from a public place. You can say something like, “I’m sorry we’re leaving the store but here we avoid talking that way.” Do not make it appear as an act of revenge or punishment but as a natural consequence of his/her choice to swear.
  6. Argue and avoid moralizing against any unwanted behavior and in this case against the repetition of “bad words”. Saying to children “It’s not right” does not explain anything. “It’s good to avoid offending people around us using such words because they are hurt and upset” explains much more and helps children understand the meaning of the bad word and why it is good to avoid it. Avoid blaming children but firmly show them that their actions have consequences for other people.
  7. Spend time analyzing children’s behavior and avoid standing in classic stereotypes, such as “good kids should not swear” or “those who swear will not have friends” etc.
  8. Corporal punishment is something that is contraindicated in any case.
  9. When a child says “bad words” with a combination of aggressive behavior as a result of anger and anxiety then it is good to seek the help of a specialist for further suggestions.

Militsa Demetriou
Registered School / Educational Psychologist (Registration Number 423)

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