Kids and Swearing: How to get the little ones to stop talking sh*t

Ahh the power of words: to inspire, teach and offend. Nothing beats the precision of a well-placed profanity, but swearing is like hot sauce—a little goes a long way.

I hate hearing kids curse. Although it’s a natural part of their development, swearing is a harsh reminder of lost innocence, especially when it’s your own kid. I didn’t want to punish my children—prohibiting curse words would only add to their mystique (Adults swear, therefore swearing makes me sound grown up) but I needed to develop strategies. These may help:

How to Handle Kids Swearing

  1. Stay Calm. The younger the child the more influence your response will have. Try under-reacting. (Self-control is a vital parenting skill!) Kids do only what works, so if they don’t get a rise out of you, they’ll move on to other charming activities, like catching head lice.
  2. Explain. Take a breath, then try to educate the child. Tell her that those words offend some people; that Grandma (for instance) would be so sad to hear them. Make the case that these are powerful words, not to be used lightly.
  3. Restrain Yourself. Of course you have to do your part—restrain your own potty mouth. To be a good example in your community, watch that mouth in public too.
  4. Get Creative. This is a wonderful excuse for creative exploration. Experiment with nonsense words, hard consonants, sibilance and staccato sounds. (One of my favourite exclamations is cheese & crackers! I have no idea where it came from.) Or be like Shakespeare—try making up oaths that are spectacularly insulting but not dependent on swearwords. (See The Shakespearean Insult Generator or others like it).

Here’s a funny example: Years ago I watched Deer Hunter on basic cable. Instead of bleeping out the swearwords, they’d been overdubbed with censor-friendly alternatives. Around the middle of the movie, two characters get in a shoving match. There’s plenty of swearing, but every f-ck you was overdubbed as thank you. It was hilarious! Two large men thanking each other while fighting. To this day, every time I get the urge to say f-ck you, I chuckle and say Thank you

Part of growing up is experimentation, and trying on adult personas. When adults model good speech habits, and help children explore our wonderful language, we help kids increase their vocabulary and decrease their urge to swear. Think of it as a gift for everyone.