What To Do When Kids Use Bad Language

1 year(s) ago
What To Do When Kids Use Bad Language

"Mamma, what is sexy?" I was jolted out of my senses when my 6-year-old daughter suddenly asked me this.  I didn't show any alarm, and tried to redirect it by saying "Sixty? Why it's a number that comes after fifty-nine". Meanwhile, I was scrambling for words in my mind about how I should answer it. As expected, she said, "not sixty mamma, SEXY".  I asked her where she heard it from and in what context. It turned out someone on the bus was talking about some dancer on a show. Then I told her that this word has different connotations and when the Didi in bus said it, she meant to say that someone was very stylish and attractive but it is not a very nice word and I would not like her to use it.

This incident just made me realize that my daughter is growing up really fast and I have to expect a lot more of such things from now on. I am sure even your children must have stumped you with such questions or used swear words or profane words much to your embarrassment!

So what do we do when kids use bad language?

For children under the age of 3, just ignoring it is the best practice. When they do not get any reaction, they usually do not use the word again.

For preschoolers definitely don't let it slide, but also don't overreact. The worst thing you can do is to freak out because the kids will enjoy getting a reaction from you. First, you need to understand why your child is using these words.

They are part of the language. Your child has heard adults or older kids use these words. Children learn language by emulating adult speech. So, it is entirely normal, and natural, for children to use swear words, or other inappropriate words.

There's a big chance that s/he just doesn't know the exact meaning of them but feels that there's something special about f-words or other such words since these words get her/him attention from grown-ups. If children are feeling desperate for that attention, they will accept scolding over nothing at all.

Initially, do no scold or punish the child for using such language, but bring it up for discussion and emphasize the following points:

  • It is bad to use such words.
  • She/He might offend other people by using them.
  • Consider actually explaining what these words mean (parents will have to use their own judgement for this).
  • Just explain that they are bad words, and that sometimes grown-ups will say them, but that children should never say them.
  • Model good language yourself.
  • Try to find the source of the bad language and eliminate it.
  • The important thing here is to convey to our children that they are always welcome to ask you anything and everything without fear of punishment or reprisal. As long as this communication channel is open, you just need to be consistent and calmly apply discipline as you would in any other situation.

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Manjiri Gokhale
Manjiri has a masters in clinical psychology from Mumbai University. She has been practicing with the Institute for Psychological Health (IPH) since the last 12 years. Manjiri is a practicing academic and has taught students at the undergraduate level. She has written research papers and her clinical work includes psychometric testing, counselling and designing workshops for normal children as well as those with special needs. She has 2 daughters, a 6 year old and an 8 month old!

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