Parents frequently express concern about how best to handle it when their sweet faced child suddenly bursts out with language that is blush-worthy. Do you ignore it? Do you punish for it? The answer isn’t simple and can depend on the situation.
First off, take a look at the term “inappropriate.” Different homes and different cultures may not agree on what that means. You have to determine what is and is not acceptable for your child based on your own thoughts as a parent. Is it “bathroom language?” Is it racially demeaning, discriminating or otherwise hurtful? Is it obscene?
When you have clear ideas about what you consider unacceptable from your child, next look at why the language is happening. Oftentimes children will test boundaries and set up power struggles around language because they see a significant reaction when they use the words. Sometimes inappropriate language comes as a result of frustration or anger. In some cases, children will try out extreme language to gain attention from peers. Zero in on what is happening in your child’s life at that time that may be behind the language issue. Listen to them and offer your help problem solving.
The age of the child will also help determine how best to respond. If the child is a preschooler or elementary age child, start out by simply stating that you do not use that language in your family. Stay calm and repeat that message if necessary. Sometimes removing yourself from the room is helpful. “I don’t like hearing those words. I’m going to read in my room for awhile. When you are ready to use polite words I will be happy to talk to you again.” Older children who continue to use unacceptable language may need to lose privileges as a result.
Sometimes it may be helpful to give your child alternative words that are silly or fun to say as a more positive verbal outlet. (“Oh huckleberries!”) Encourage the use of words that describe their feelings and emotions as well. (“I’m super angry!” “I’m so frustrated!”) When your child learns to better identify their feelings, it opens the door to discussion and help.
Take some proactive steps in your household to prevent language you don’t support. Pay attention to your own language. Good or bad, children emulate what we do. In addition, monitor the television and music your child is exposed to. Standards of what can be said on television and in music can be eye-opening for parents who may remember a time when controls were tighter. Whatever you do, don’t laugh at the child or ask them to repeat the negative language. Doing so virtually guarantees they will do it again.
Many children go through a phase where they try out some pretty harsh language. Rest assured that it’s not uncommon and often lasts for a short time only. Be consistent and calm and odds are you will not have to deal with the problem for long.