Imagine this: You’re a parent walking around the grocery store with your child. Whether out of frustration, anger, or completely out-of-the-blue, your child loudly lets out a swear word for everyone in the store to hear. You are shocked and embarrassed. You wonder where they learned that word and are angry at them for using it. This situation is one that many parents experience, and few know how to navigate or avoid. According to Dr. Emma Byrne, the best way is by teaching your kids swear words at home. (1)
The Benefit of Teaching Your Kids Swear Words At Home
Neuroscientist Dr. Emma Byrne wrote a book called Swearing is Good For You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language. In this book, she breaks down the history of swearing, the reasons behind why we swear, and the swearing inequities between men and women. She was interviewed on Good Morning Britain about her work, specifically about the benefit of teaching your kids swear words, and whether you should use them. (1)
According to Dr. Byrne, the benefits of educating your kids on bad language far outweigh any possible cons. Naturally, how you determine what type of language is or isn’t allowed in your home is entirely up to the parent. Why? Because some people (including parents) are more offended by swear words than others. (1)
You’re Teaching Your Kids The Power Behind Language And How Not To Use It
Dr. Byrne says that you are not teaching your kids that swearing is okay, but rather that certain words are considered highly offensive and should not be used in most (or all) situations. Most importantly, you teach them that these words have the power to hurt people, so they should never be directed at anyone in a negative way. (1)
This, of course, opens up a greater conversation about negative language in general. She reminds us that you can, in fact, offend someone without using expletives at all. These are things like calling people stupid or ugly. In many instances, targeting someone with malicious intent using plain language can be more hurtful than if you just used a swear word. (1)
Preparing For The Moment When Your Child Swears
Primarily, Dr. Byrne wants to prepare parents for what to do when they are in that public setting, and their child embarrasses them by swearing loudly for all to hear. (1)
“I want to equip parents to cope with that moment of shame and embarrassment of my kid swore in a place that was inappropriate,” she said. “Instead of saying ‘we are going to shut this conversation down,’ talking about why that is inappropriate.” (1)
Do you necessarily have to sit down with a list of bad words and go through them one by one? No, but you should be ready to have a productive conversation with your child about why what they said was unacceptable. (2)
How To Discipline Your Child For Swearing
Discipling children for swearing is not as straight-forward as many would like to think. Most often, when a child swears, they are repeating something they heard from someone else. Maybe they picked it up on the playground at school, maybe they heard it on the television, maybe they even heard it from you. (2)
Wherever they got it from, both laughing or lashing out and getting angry are not effective strategies. All that does is teach your child that this particular word elicits a reaction – positive or negative. They are more likely to keep doing it. (2)
Instead, if this is the first time you’ve heard your child use this word, you need to sit down with them and discuss language, as mentioned before. Teach them that this is an unkind word that is not appropriate to say and especially not directed at anyone. (3)
From there, you can develop ground rules. If you want absolutely no swearing in your home, then this is the boundary you set. This way, the next time they use that word, your punishment can be more strict because they are acting in outright defiance. (3)
Be aware: If this is your house rule, you also must abide by it. (3)
Another important part of this conversation is teaching your kids that if they ever hear a word they don’t understand, tell them not to repeat it until they get home. They can then ask you about it, or another trusted adult. (3)
Dr. Byrne says these conversations are important because your kids will learn to swear like it or not. Like many other taboo parts of our society, they should learn about these things from you, so they are equipped with actual knowledge, rather than learning them from their peers on the playground. (1)
What To Do If Your Child Has A Swearing Problem
Sometimes even with proper conversation and education, you might still find your child is using language they aren’t supposed to. This is when consequences come into play. (3)
You can try a swear jar that even you have to add to. That money, however, has to go to something mundane, like bills. If it goes towards something fun, the lesson will be lost. (3)
Timeouts are also effective, particularly for younger children. This gives them time to think about why what they did was wrong and can also provide space for more discussion on the topic. (3)
Finally, if your child isn’t responding to consequences, you can take the opposite approach: Reward them for proper language use. Try using a token economy system, which involves giving them a physical token when they do the right thing. This can be a sticker or a coin they can keep in a box. (4)
The goal of this system is to keep things positive. You may have to use trial-and-error to determine what type of reward your child responds to. It can be money or stickers, but it can also be getting to choose what you have for dinner that night or an extra bedtime story. (4)
Whatever method you choose, make sure you give it ample time before trying something else. There is always an adjustment period that is different for every child. (4)
The Bottom Line
Teaching your kids swear words is not about teaching them to swear; it’s about empowering them with knowledge of proper language use. You are teaching them the power of words and that the words they use can hurt people. Lastly, you are preparing them for the world they will eventually be navigating more independently – a world where, like it or not, people do swear. You are empowering them, not hindering them.
- “Scientist Says Parents Should Teach Their Children Swear Words And Educate Them On Their Meaning.” Independent. Chelsea Ritschel. August 6, 2018.
- “Swearing.” Healthy Children.
- “How to Appropriately Discipline a Child for Swearing.” Very Well Family. Amy Morin, LCSW. September 30, 2020.
- “How to Create a Token Economy System to Improve Your Child’s Behavior.” Very Well Family. Amy Morin, LCSW. October 01, 2020.