The Straight Talk About Dirty Talk: When Your Kids Discover Cursing

Before we get into a laundry list of strategies to get your kids not to talk dirty, why don’t we have a frank conversation about language first?

You may never even say as much as, “Darn!” around your children, but all bets are off once they step out onto the playground. And chances are good that you have at one point slipped and dropped a four-letter bomb in front of your kid. It happens.

So why are we appalled when our daughter blurts out the f-word at a party? Because it’s a horrible sound, because she has no idea what it means, and because it couldn’t possibly be more inappropriate, unless you were at church or a funeral. We have these social conventions for a reason, to make everyone feel comfortable, to be respectful and avoid undue negativity. That said, most people curse.

So how do you get your child to nix those bad words from the playbook if everyone around them is using them? As parents, we don’t always have control over what they hear and see, and part of growing is learning how to mediate this sometimes ugly world.  

It’s worth unpacking the newfound power of the cuss before we simply pounce and censor. Take a minute to think about what is happening and why.

Potty Talk

So Freud was right about some things, and one of them is the potty talk fascination. The social reaction to it is so dramatic, the sounds of the words are fun to say, and the whole business is just so unpleasant that laughter is, if you think about it, a great response. Plus right at the time children are learning language, we are actively encouraging them to leave the diapers behind.

It boils down to two basic choices: we can show them with our reactions that it’s just part of life and that no one needs to dwell on it, or we can be more punitive and try to shut it down. That second method usually does the opposite; it fuels the desire to talk about it.  

If your little one won’t let it go at a particularly inconvenient time, invite him or her to take some space and say that gross word to themselves until they are done. Without an audience, “poop” quickly loses its power.

Also, do yourself a favor and don’t try to pretend toilet humor isn’t sometimes genuinely hilarious. Kids will see right through that.

Pick Your Curse Word Battles

If you put all the dirty, gross, and unpleasant words on the “No” list, kids will fight you. The curse jar, as many families will tell you, doesn’t actually work. Making a big deal out of a ubiquitous word like “snot” is going to make it a constant battle whenever a new curse word comes their way. The first time a charged word comes up, ignore it. They might be testing for a reaction and if you don’t give one to them, it reduces the appeal. However, if you hear that word in the rotation, particularly an insult, it’s time to have an age appropriate conversation. You can gently redirect by just asking the question: do you know what that word means?

Allow Experimentation

Rather than trying to suppress those words, do the opposite: let them out. Tell your child that for 15 minutes, they can say anything they want. They will often run out of steam when they see that you are not reactive.

It’s Not the Words – It’s the Meaning

It may sink in right away that it may be an ongoing way for them to tinker with power, but sooner or later, children will get it if you continue to explain that words can hurt people. They are already familiar with this concept through school and your household. We talk about kindness and so in that context, you can compare certain words to hitting or kicking. Choose those words carefully and find ways to describe the negativity behind them.

There are some tricks, but there will be some power struggles. Allow for the fact that socialization works both ways: youngsters will pick these terms up, but once they use the wrong word in a way that really does damage, they will learn first-hand the hard implications. As long as you minimize your own use of negative language, your children will gradually appropriate a respectful vocabulary too.

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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