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My Child Uses Dirty Words

It isn't funny

Shyama Dalal was horrified when her five-year-old son, Vinay, called her a b----- in the middle of a routine argument. She says, "I was so shocked and angry. I gave him a good spanking. He better not speak to me like that again."

When one thinks of children, one thinks of fairytales, sugar candy sweetness and innocence. When faced with a child spewing choice abuses, people generally have one of two reactions. While parents take a step back and think  - "Did I really hear what I did?", other people might actually find the incongruity funny. 

The parrot instinct

The fact is that it is fairly common for children between the age of two-and-a-half and five to use swear words. In the course of the development of their language skills, children have a tendency to repeat what they hear. If you've cursed somebody over the phone when your child was in earshot, you shouldn't be surprised if you hear your child repeating the same choice words in the near future. 

Potty talk

Toilet-training time often sees a sudden surge in "potty talk." Suddenly your child finds it very entertaining to say things like, "I'll flush you down the pot." They find endless amusement in indulging in gross talk about their bowel movement, especially at the dinner table. Unfortunately, this is extremely annoying for people around. 

Shock value

Children love attention. They soon realize that one surefire way of attracting attention is by using swear words. More often than not, they have no idea what they're talking about or the contexts in which they use the words. They know that these 'naughty words' have shock value and that's good enough. It's the thrill of the forbidden, which every adult can identify with.

However, in the case of the older child, say somewhere between the age of six and ten, their use of profanity is a little harder to take. Somehow, it's not so easy to excuse. You feel that children this age know very well the meaning of the words they are using and are saying them deliberately to be mean and hurtful. In a sense, that is a fair assumption. Children this age usually use bad language for revenge or to gain control.  

Tips on how to react

  • Be careful about the language you use in front of your child.
  • Be firm and tell him that such language is not acceptable.
  • Don't laugh and discourage your friends and family from laughing when he says a bad word. He will interpret laughter as encouragement.
  • Try not to react at all. Maintain a poker face. If he can't get a rise out of you, he will soon tire of these antics.
  • If your child continues to use swear words despite your ignoring him, leave the room. If you are in a public place, both of you should leave.
  • Another option is to give your child some time to himself and make his sit in a corner or in another room. 
  • React with humour if you can, rather than anger.
  • When both of you have calmed down, discuss what language is considered and what is not. Let him know the consequences of disobeying you.
  • In the case of the older child, make an effort to find out what is bothering him and when you do help him to find other ways of releasing his pent-up emotions.
  • While it is very hard to stay calm when your child is using profanity, try to convey your hurt and anger to him in a calm manner. 
  • Encourage positive behaviour and praise him for restricting the use of bad language if he shows improvement. 
  • Find out whom he is picking up this language from and restrict his socializing with such companions.

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