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What to do when a Child Curses

August 25, 2009 22:52 by Barbara Shelby

Thought of the Month 

 Cursing among kids is more prevalent today than ever before! In a recent survey, four out of five teachers said that student's behavior was worse than ever; children as young as three are using bad language. Fortunately, it is a problem that can be addressed in your home, program or classroom.

 • Keep your cool when kids use bad words. Think for a moment before responding. Children are finding their place in the world. They are going through...What can I do? What can't I do? (And even...What can I get away with?) Some children may curse to see what kind of a reaction they will get from you. Even a very young child who doesn't know the meaning of the word may simply use it because it is known to shock adults. It may also have received attention in the past.

 If you stay calm and control your reaction, you take away the shock value of the swear word and render it ineffective. The young child may forget the incident and entirely forget the word. If the child is older, calmly but firmly say "It's not Ok to use that word here."

• Make a game of it and offer alternatives! After isolating the word(s) used, encourage children to think of appropriate alternatives. Start off with some substitutes; you can say words such as "shoot!" "darn" "phooey"... Next challenge the child to come up with other alternatives. This is especially effective if the child is cursing from frustration and trying to express an emotion. If this is the case, say I see that you're upset, but the word you used bothers people. Hopefully you'll be hearing "fudge" or "rats" in the future!

• If your are working with children and none of this works -- and the words continue in the future, tell the child you will need to talk to their parent about the inappropriate language. This consequence in itself may squash the verbiage.

•  If you are a parent, silence the source. Make a point of setting up 'house rules' where everyone must use acceptable vocabulary in front of the kids. Children model the language and behavior of those around them-be sure your home is a haven of words you want your child to use.

 If the words are coming from television or video games-consider censoring what is being watched and played. You can activate your TV's V-chip-as well as control computers. Is it coming from a friend or school? Talk to the child's teacher or parent.

•  Reward positive behavior by noticing when a child stops cursing. When you hear a 'substitute' word being used instead of the 'real' word,'  notice it and remark "Ahh, you didn't use the bad word--good for you." Receiving attention for appropriate behavior  goes far in reinforcing change.

 As a side note-also watch for children using words such as stupid, dumb, gay, retarded, etc. when referring to people! These words are also inappropriate and extremely mean and hurtful! Teach children they are NOT OK to use...

Barb Shelby



September 15. 2009 20:29

I have a question.
I work in an After-School program. When we are outside, at times there are older kids there. They may not be swearing/cursing, but are definetely using inappropriate language and tone. What do you advise to do? Thank you in advance.


September 16. 2009 19:44

Hi Shelly!
I know of several school district programs that do not allow any other children on the play ground while the After-School Program is in session. Staff simply approach the children who do NOT attend-- and inform them of the policy.

Other programs  will tell youth who are not registered with them --that the playground is reserved for the After School program. If they wish to use the play area---they MUST follow ALL School Age Care Rules! (You then tell them what the rules are)

Children usually will comply--or will decide to leave on their own.

If there continues to be a problem with language or play that does not meet  your rules of safety, respect or kindness, tell them they must leave. If they do not leave, many sites will bring out the custodian--or another supportive authority figure. This always works! The problematic kids seldom return. However, unless issues of personal safety are in play,  try to work it out on your own-before involving someone else. Not handling problems as they arise, can invalidate us as an authority figure.

Hope this helps! Barb Smile


August 3. 2010 13:36

Thanks for the guidance, it really helped me.

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