How to Stop Swearing . . .

Don't use four letter words around the kids.

On YouTube toddlers spout four-letter words for laughs. Parents post blogs defending their decision to let foul language fly in their homes. Go the F**k to Sleep, the best-selling picture book for parents — written by a very tired dad and floridly recorded by Samuel L. Jackson — has spawned a Stephen Fry–narrated sequel, You Have to F*****g Eat.

According to a national survey, parents believe that cursing has become more prevalent in today’s society, particularly among children. Is it? 

“The data is mixed,” says Caroline Clauss-Ehlers, PhD, psychologist and associate professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education. Parents who freely curse are more visible today, thanks to social media. However, the survey showed that 93 percent of parents make an effort not to curse in front of the kids — though 8 out of 10 surveyed admitted to slipping up at times.

What the bleep?

Parents who condone cursing do so, they say, because it’s an effective release for anger or funny when used at opportune times. And really, is there a difference between yelling “fudge” or another f-word when you stub your toe? A study from England’s Keele University found swearing to be a harmless, creative emotional release that made people feel stronger. However, cautions Clauss-Ehlers, “Context is important.”

While “Social science says a word in and of itself does not cause harm, if you’re yelling at your children with these words and calling them names, you need to question if there is emotional mistreatment going on,” she continues.

A University of Pittsburgh study published in Child Development found that adolescents who received harsh verbal discipline — including shouting insults and curse words — were more likely to experience depressive symptoms and exhibit antisocial or aggressive behavior.

So is it OK to curse as long as it’s not directed at someone? “Research shows that most kids don’t learn about swear words from the mass media but from their parents and peers,” says Clauss-Ehlers. Deb Cohen, assistant director of Abington, PA’s Center for Parenting Education, agrees: “If parents are the source of cursing, be aware that kids will mimic it.”

Given that little pitchers do have big ears, don’t be surprised if they spout bad language at inopportune times. “While you as an adult know when it’s appropriate to curse, kids can’t always discriminate when it’s OK,” warns Roberta Golinkoff, PhD, early education expert and Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor at the University of Delaware. For instance, cursing in class may get kids in trouble at school. And if other parents overhear profanity on the playground, they might exclude the perpetrator from activities like birthday parties, for fear that the bad habit will spread. 

The use of foul language can also deter kids from acquiring a rich vocabulary. Instead, “Why not arm them with words found on standardized tests and in books?” proposes Golinkoff. “When something goes wrong, say, ‘That’s horrific!’ ”

Lastly, swearing often results from anger, which can sometimes mask fear, jealousy or other emotions. Because children learn from the way their parents respond to tough situations, you don’t help them understand and control their own feelings if you unleash a series of cuss words at times of stress.

Next page: How to stop swearing


How to stop cursing

Here are some methods that can help parents break their swearing habit.

  • Every time a family member curses, he must put a set amount of money into a swear jar. One caution: Earmarking the money for something fun — a new TV or a vacation — may not be a deterrent and could even increase kids’ swearing. 
  • Reward and praise children for using appropriate language and managing their anger and emotions effectively.
  • Brainstorm other words to replace curse words.
  • Restate your sentence when you slip up. Admit that you’re working to change a bad habit.
  • Model how to deal with frustration, conflict and difficult situations. Pause, breathe and then describe what you’re feeling and why. 
  • Help children identify how they feel and what their emotions are.
  • Do not reward children with attention when they use swear words. Address it and move on. 

Freelance writer Susan Stopper writes frequently for MetroKids.

Categories: Solutions