What to do about your child's potty mouth
Where to draw the line.

It's pretty normal for a child to use a swear word at some point. If or when your child says a rude word for the first time it might be a bit of a shock. With toddlers, swearing happens when they’re exploring their language and sometimes they’ll want to test the new word to see what sort of response it gets.

Read more: I will effing swear if I want to

They might also just be re-enacting what they heard you or another adult say, perhaps they heard you use the word while you were shouting over the phone at a family member or during an unexpected load shedding schedule that completely ruined your dinner plans.

When it comes to older children, swearing can mean something a bit more than a child who’s mimicking a new or unfamiliar word. Frustration, anxiety or a feeling of not being heard or understood might cause them to blurt out a swear word in an attempt to get your attention and to express how strongly they feel towards something.

But there’s a difference between a child who swears about something and a child who swears at you. If your child swears at you this should be a clear indication that boundaries and guidelines need to be set without giving them the reaction they were hoping for by shouting back at them or entertaining a power struggle. 

When your child blurts out a swear word (non-intentionally)

Keep a straight face: Some parents can't help but giggle a bit when they hear their little one use a naughty word, because a toddler probably doesn't know just how profound the word really is. If your first reaction is to laugh then your toddler is more likely to learn that there's something significant about the word and will probably use it again to get your attention. 

Ignorance is bliss: Sometimes it's better to completely ignore the word your child has used and hope that this helps them forget about the word entirely. However if you notice that they're doing it often and getting some sort of kick out of saying it then you might need to address and explain to your child that this is not an acceptable word and that other people won't like hearing it either. 

Lead by example: Kids will learn a lot of their behaviours and new words from their parents. Be aware of the words you use even when you think your kids don't understand. 

When your child swears at you (intentionally)

Zero tolerance: If your child is swearing at you they're probably aware that this is going to get you angry or that they'll get attention from you. Parents need to stick to their guns and establish a zero-tolerance attitude if their child is swearing at them or at others. Explain that the word they just used is unacceptable and that it warrants a consequence.

Give them a choice: When reprimanding your child it's important to do so in such a way that it doesn't entertain further arguments and if they fight with you on this one, let them know that the more they argue with you about it the bigger their consequence will be. Get them to understand that how they choose to react from then on will determine the extent of the consequences and that they have the choice to prevent further punishments.  

Time out/loss of privileges:  Time outs tend to work well with young children but you may want to implement something more age-appropriate for teens. Some parents add on chores to their teen's duties at home, but many argue that chores shouldn't be a punishment and that they should rather be seen as a way to help out in the house. Taking away privileges like TV time, a reduction to their pocket money or limiting the time they spend playing video games is a better way for you teen to think twice before they swear at you or someone else next time. 

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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