Photo by Paula O’Hara
I, as a rule, do not curse. And it’s hard to explain to children why cursing is bad. I act this way for several reasons; religious, personal, and professional. This makes what happened to me even more embarrassing. I was reading a passage to a group of twenty third grade students when my principal came in to talk to me. She makes me nervous. After she left, I continued reading aloud and read “Then you wash it.” Except I did not say “wash it”, I said “sh*t”. I had done what I personally never do, in front of kids who all started calling me out on my language faux pas. This was a learning moment for me as a teacher, and one that you will inevitably face as a parent.
Teaching your kids why cursing is bad can be tricky. If you regularly use “colorful language”, it will make your job even harder. Regardless of your feelings about cursing, no one wants their four year old walking around saying expletives! Here are some thoughts about teaching your kids about cursing.
Evaluate how the child is using it. Kids, especially young kids, may use a curse word innocently or passively to see how you will react. Are they using it to express anger? Or simply saying it out of context? Instead of making a big deal out of the occurrence, try asking them what they meant by it. Then ask them if they can use another word instead. You can say “In this house, we use the word _________ to express that feeling.” When that doesn’t work…
Explain the difference between a positive word and a negative word. Try not to go too deep into this, because the meaning may get lost in the discussion. Express the difference between a word that makes people feel good, and a word that makes people feel badly. Build up their confidence that they are kind and caring, and should use positive words to show that to others. But if they say they heard “_________ say it…”
Be real with them. Explain that everyone makes mistakes, and that word was not said in a nice way. The important thing about mistakes is to fix it, and that person “fixed it”. It is important to tell the other person about the situation. Although it may seem comical, kids are human tape recorders and will be a repeat curse word offender if they hear others not changing their ways.
Monitor television and music exposure. This is the most difficult task of all. No parents can monitor their children all the time, but setting parental guidelines on television settings will be a huge help. You can set your television to require a password for certain ratings. Upon studying the rating system, PG means it may contain one or more of: violence (D), infrequent coarse language (L), some sexual situations (S) or moderate violence (V). Review television guidelines for more information on television rating systems. If some language is said in front of you and your child, and they pick up on it, discuss other words the character could have used instead.
Make it a family affair. Make a commitment to keep the home “curse word free”. Although it may be difficult to change habits, it can be done. The age old “swear jar” is a creative way to get mom and dad to curb their curse word habits. Another option is to come up with an alternative word to use instead, similar to what was discussed in the first point. Personally, my niece was in a phase where she was saying “Fiddlesticks” all the time, so now that is what I say when I am frustrated! It may sound silly, but it works. You could even make a family chart and assign words for frustration, anger, hurt, stress, or annoyance. This will also help build your child’s vocabulary while helping their language stay curse word free.
In the end, no one is perfect. I was reading Good Night Moon to my four month old son and I did it again! The line was “Two bears sitting in chairs” and, well, I said the bears were doing something else in chairs! The most important thing is to create an environment with an open dialogue with your children to discuss proper speaking behavior. This will help continue to build an open problem solving relationship within your family.