When Little Kids Curse
up bad language requires action and creativity.
By Jenifer Whitten Woodring
and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Unless
they come from the mouths of babes—my babes, that is. I'll never
forget when my son, Patrick, then a darling two-year-old with angelic
curls and adorable blue eyes, began saying, "Damn it, Mommy!" with
both feeling and enunciation. How could I teach a toddler who was
just learning to talk that some words are better left unsaid?
have an uncanny ability to pick up words—all words—that they hear.
In my case, I must admit, Patrick probably heard it from his parents.
And what kids pick up on TV, on the playground, in the store, or
at child care is bound to stick. Eventually, your angel is going
to utter something downright demonic, no matter how much you try
to shield him.
Your little one's first
cussing episode may seem funny at first, but don't laugh. "Swearing
can get them into big trouble when they go to school. It's better
to teach them now so they don't have to suffer the consequences
later," advises Kathy Burklow, a psychologist at the Cincinnati
Children's Hospital Medical Center.
Curbing a Cusser
While there are many ways
parents can help children avoid bad language, there is no substitute
for avoiding it yourself. James O'Connor, the author of Cuss
Control (Three Rivers Press), suggests trying alternative exclamations
like shoot, blast it, nuts, phooey,
for crying out loud, and dagnabit. Silly terms—malarkey,
balderdash, hogwash—will get your kids to laugh, making them more
likely to want to imitate them.
Most children under three
won't comprehend that certain words are unacceptable. Often, ignoring
the offense may be the best defense when dealing with the very young.
But after their third birthday, they're more likely to understand
that some words are naughty. So take action. "Get down on your knees,
look your child directly in the eye, and tell him, 'That's a word
that we don't use in our family,'" recommends Linda Metcalf, the
author of Parenting Toward Solutions (Prentice Hall). "Make
the words—not the child—the culprit to give him a chance to move
away from the behavior."
If your child persists in
using such language, show him you mean business with disciplinary
action. For a four-year-old, that may mean calling a short time-out
or taking away a favorite toy. Kids a little older may benefit from
time spent in their rooms.
Fortunately, Patrick's transgression
turned out to be an easy fix: We convinced him to substitute the
more acceptable "darn it." It didn't take long for him to start
correcting adults who failed to use this alternative.
Writer Jenifer Whitten Woodring
has two children and lives in Pennsylvania.
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