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How To Stop A Child From Saying Bad Words

How To Stop A Child From Saying Bad Words

Your family is enjoying a relaxing evening at home when suddenly, your child says a very inappropriate word. How do you respond when your toddler or preschooler swears? Here’s how to stop a child from saying bad words.

Speech development in young children

Talking about the best practices to stop a child from saying bad words requires an understanding of their speech development.

Babies often start talking at the age of 1. From monosyllabic words, their vocabulary exponentially grows to 50 words by the time they’re 18 months to 24 months old. Give them about a year more, and they’ll be able to string 3 to 4 words into sentences, know about 200 words, identify the most common objects at home, and use pronouns such as “I,” “me,” “he,” and “she,” correctly.

By the time they’re in pre-school, conversations with them become more interesting and complex. 5-year-olds typically have around 2,000 words in their vocabulary, can speak in grammatically-correct sentences, and ask challenging questions that start with “how” and “why.”

The thing is, toddlers and preschoolers do not distinguish between good and bad words; they just “absorb” everything. If you hear them say bad words, it’s likely because they heard someone else say it. Remember that imitation is a big part of their development at this stage: they usually copy what they see and hear.

How to stop a child from saying bad words

Some parents have explosive reactions to hearing their child cuss or swear; they may immediately worry about who they learned it from and sternly tell their kids not to repeat those words. But, according to experts, it’s not the best way to stop them from swearing.

They recommend the following steps:

Don’t react right away

If kids swear, it’s probably because they:

  • Find the new word funny and want to try saying it themselves.
  • Are expressing their anger or frustration; kids who hear frustrated adults swear might also swear if they feel angry or frustrated.
  • Want to get a reaction or attention from adults

If they are seeking attention, not reacting immediately is the best way to stop a child from saying bad words. This way, they’ll realize that cussing is not an effective method of getting your attention.

Calmly ask them why they said it

After spending some time “ignoring” the inappropriate word, ask your kids why they said it. You don’t have to ask a direct question. Instead, you can ask, “What were you feeling when you said that?”

Their answers may range from “I just feel like it” to “It sounds funny” to “I feel angry or mad.”

Accept their answer and offer an appropriate solution

After learning why they cussed, get them to think about more appropriate ways to express their feelings.

If they find the word funny, tell them that swearing is an “adult word” and that children should not use it. Toddlers and preschoolers are too young to understand why swear words are adult words, so explanations are usually not necessary.

In case they cussed because they were angry or frustrated, encourage them to express their feelings through appropriate words. To stop a child from saying bad words, teach them to say, “I feel angry because…”

Finally, if their swearing is directed at someone, say that it’s not acceptable. Explain that swearing at people is equivalent to hurting them.

Set rules on acceptable language at home

It’ll be easier to stop a child from saying bad words if there are rules on acceptable language. To avoid confusion, the rules should apply to everyone in the house, including adults.

List down acceptable and unacceptable words. Once you’ve established a list, impose the rules whenever you hear it at home. You can say, “we don’t use that kind of word here” or “please say it nicely.” When it comes to rules, you need to be direct.

Praise your kids when they handle their emotions well

Finally, if you notice that your child is trying hard to handle their emotions without swearing, praise them. It’ll reinforce the fact that they don’t need to swear to express their anger or frustration.

Learn more about Parenting a Pre-schooler here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Feb 21
Medically reviewed by Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS
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