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The days of washing out the mouths of children who swear are thankfully behind us, but what is the right way to react when your children curse?
Bad Words and Good Words
Lets start with words. There are no good words or bad words, just words that are used in an inappropriate way. “Inappropriate” can be usage by children, or by adults in certain situation. It is important for kids to know that even when they are adults, there are some times when swearing isn’t acceptable.
Talk openly about which words you find are acceptable, and which you’d prefer they didn’t use. Families have different tolerances to cursing, so make sure they know that just because their parents are relaxed about this, doesn’t mean that they can let loose when visiting friends. Discuss other family members, and how they feel about swearing. Perhaps Granny is ok with swearing, but Auntie Betty isn’t.
You aren’t just teaching them how to get along with YOUR family and friends, you are teaching them how to get along in life. Your child’s future tutor or boss shouldn’t have to take them aside and caution them about their inappropriate language. Some workplaces are less formal, but in many positions, it is considered completely unreasonable to use salty language.
Another facet of this discussion is hurtful language. I’d much rather my child used a swearword than used racist, sexist, homophobic or disabilist language, or was in other ways unkind. Words like fat, ugly, or stupid, when used to hurt or embarrass someone else, are worse than the odd F-bomb.
If you have younger children, then be aware of the example you and your older kids are setting. And of course the example that YOU are setting. Kids pick up new words fast, and when they learn a word that gets them a lot of attention, they will use it all the more! If your child does start using a word that you find inappropriate, tell them that it isn’t a word that you like them using, and then ignore. The more fuss you make, the more they’ll use it!
Language and Abuse
There is a huge difference between swearing when something goes wrong, and swearing at parents, siblings or other family members. Verbal abuse cannot be tolerated, and this should be made very clear.
“I’m so f*cking angry with my teacher”
“F*ck off, Mum”
With the former, anger and frustration is being expressed – in this situation, you may wish to deal with the issue, and leave the discussion about swearing for a later point. The second example is not to be ignored or tolerated. This is where the family rules come in, and where it does get tricky.
What do you do when your child continues to use these words, or is abusive towards you, or one of the other family members? Parental abuse by children does happen, and more often that we think. This generally doesn’t come out of nowhere, and is often a sign of something else that is happening in the child’s life, that they are not coping with.
Often parents feel overwhelmed, guilty or ashamed, that their child is behaving like this, and are reluctant to ask for help. If this happens to you, do not ignore it. It is not a phase that every child goes through. They are unreasonably angry, and they are taking that anger out on you. Speak to someone – your child’s teacher, a counsellor, your GP, or a trusted friend.
Signs of Parental Abuse, and what to do about it.