Parents often forget that children are active listeners and imitators. If parents use profanity (and most do, either regularly or during moments of anger), so will their children. And children are surprisingly good mimics.
They swear with their parents’ tone and intensity, and they use curse words in the appropriate contexts. Young children pick up profanity, which they also hear from playmates and on TV, just as they pick up other phrases. When one four-year-old heard a loud noise in his house, his parents were surprised to hear him ask, “What the h, was that?”
If you respond with surprise when your child uses a curse word, or when you say, “Don’t ever use that word again,” your child will learn that profanity has power: “Mom, Anton said a bad word!” Your child may continue to use swear words (or other words you disapprove of) to test out their shock value and to try to understand what makes certain words bad.
Parents are usually alarmed if they hear their child use profanity. They feel embarrassed, worry that he’ll be blamed for teaching these words to other children, and wonder how to get their child to stop. Parents also worry that his cursing will reflect on the entire family and that people may assume such language is used and condoned in their home. Because of these fears, many parents become angry and react strongly when their child uses profanity. But parents should be careful not to blame their child for his natural tendency to imitate what he hears.
If your child uses swear words only occasionally, there’s no need to be concerned. But if he uses such words often, there are several things you can do. The most important is to stop using profanity yourself. If he no longer hears the words from you (or from the TV shows you let him watch), he’ll probably stop cursing.
You can also set firm limits on his language, “That’s not a nice word,” or “We don’t use that word in our house.” Typically if you don’t overreact, and continue to monitor your own language, your child will stop using profanity.