Discipline for Cursing and Foul Language

Kids are exposed to curse words in the home, at school, and through various media. At some point these words are going to make their way into your youngster's vocabulary. The trick is to not shield him or her from this inevitable exposure, but to learn how to offer a fair and just consequence that will teach the child that using such words is unacceptable. How you decide to discipline your child for using curse words will depend largely on his or her age – and your personal values.

Tips for disciplining children who curse:

1. Avoid using extreme techniques to discipline your kids for bad language. Communicating with your youngster about the importance of using good choices when speaking will encourage him or her to use words that are positive and appropriate. Let your youngster know why bad language is not permitted in your home and the consequences for such behavior.

2. Explaining to your youngster that curse words can be hurtful to others may help him or her understand the importance of using positive words.

3. Follow through every time with a consequence. Warn your youngster of foul language consequences before he or she tries to use another one, and enforce those consequences every time you hear foul language. Some moms and dads get creative with techniques, (e.g., sending their kids to the bathroom every time they use "potty" words), but an older boy or girl may respond better to lost privileges (e.g., a quarter subtracted from allowance for each offense).

4. Encourage your youngster to find words to use in the place of curse words. Silly words or made-up words can be fun for kids and can be helpful for grown-ups who are guilty of using bad language as well. If your youngster is using bad language to get your attention, ignore this behavior and model appropriate words for him or her.

5. Hold back laughter or shock. Moms and dads need to control their responses. A strong response (e.g., laughter, anger, surprise) may cause your youngster to continue that language to evoke a similar response in the future. But, if you ignore the language, your son or daughter may realize that it isn't an effective attention-getting strategy, and he or she may stop using it altogether.

6. No matter what the situation, it is always good to give your youngster one warning before you hand down a consequence. If the one warning is ignored, send your youngster to his or her room. If the youngster's foul behavior continues after this first small consequence, ground him or her to the bedroom for the remainder of the evening. Make the consequences more severe as your child’s disobedience continues.

7. Be patient with your child as he or she learns to find appropriate words to use during periods of frustration, anger and disappointment. Help him or her find acceptable words that “express” emotions. Discharging negative feelings is important. The opposite of “cursing” is “stuffing” feelings, which is not good either.

8. Your youngster may have heard bad language coming from his or her own home. Don't expect your kids to use good words if you and your spouse have trouble holding back your own curse words. Apologize if you accidentally let foul language slip out so that your youngster doesn't begin to assume that cursing is simply something that adults do.

9. Praise your youngsters for using appropriate language. They will be more likely to want to use more constructive words if you praise them when they use them (e.g., "I love that you used your good words to express your disappointment").

10. Don’t just concentrate on the bad words that your youngsters may have picked up along the way. Remember to thank them for using kind words when you hear them, and let them know how proud you are that they can express themselves in a positive way.

11. Separate your kids for a few minutes if they become angry with one another and begin to throw curse words at one another Take them to two different rooms, sit each down and explain why those words are not used in your home. When the two have calmed down, bring them back together and allow them to play. If the cursing begins again, separate them and once again explain the rules.

12. Categorize words by level of tolerance. For example, (a) ones that you dislike but will let slide ("stupid"), and (b) words that will never be tolerated (racist and sexist words). Alternatively, you can give your youngster a list of words that are “off limits.”

13. Kids sometimes have to learn the hard way that calling a friend a bad word can lead to retaliation and that it is the curser's responsibility to deal with this unfortunate consequence.

14. Remember that kids are like parrots. They will repeat just about everything they hear. They will assume that if mom or dad is saying these words, they must be okay. Show them through example that using a proper vocabulary is the only acceptable way in your house and that bad language will lead to consequences (e.g., loss of television, computer time, a treasured toy, etc.).

15. When issuing a “time-out” for cursing, give your youngster 1 minute for each year of his or her age (e.g., a 5-year-old would be in timeout for 5 minutes).

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