Edit ModuleShow Tags

Why Kids Swear and What to Do About It


Published:

One afternoon, my 6-year-old daughter came home from school with a question that surprised me. “Mom, me and Eva were in the bathroom today, and there was a word starting with ‘F’ on the bathroom stall,” Leah said. “Eva said it was bad. Do you know any bad words starting with ‘F’?”

“‘F’?” I repeated. Truth? Hedge? Lie? I wasn’t ready for Leah to know this word, to pass it on to her 3-year-old brother or to trot it out in public places where younger kids (and their mothers) would hear. I thought if I ignored the issue it would go away. Thus began a year of language acquisition, and I don’t mean learning how to say “Mama.”

Understand the inevitable

Turns out I was lucky we made it to age 6. Learning language is part of being human, and swearing is part of language, says Timothy Jay, Ph.D., psychology professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and author of Why We Curse. “Swearing is not like a spice added to food. It’s part of the food, the emotional food,” he says.

Infants come into this world wired for emotional communication. Additionally, kids are language “vacuum cleaners,” learning around 10 words a day to acquire some 40,000 words by adolescence. So even if you don’t swear at home, your kids will learn the words.

Elise Dunbar of Greeneville, S.C., recalls the day her preschool-aged daughter was hunting for a lost jacket with Dad. Having searched all over the house, tiny Megan marched into her mother’s closet, put her hands on her hips, and asked, “Where is that f****** thing?” No one knows where she heard it.

According to Jay, learning taboo words at a young age is normal. “Certainly they’ve got a sense of it by preschool, and by school age, elementary-schoolers know this stuff,” he says. Developmentally, part of every child’s job in every culture is to learn what the taboos are. “Everyone learns how to swear . Whether they do it or not, that’s another thing,” Jay says.

Recognize the source

Kids, especially boys, swear for all kinds of reasons, including to be funny, to get attention, to fit in and to prove independence, particularly at middle-school age. However, most people, kids included, swear out of anger or frustration. Two-thirds is anger, Jay says.

When kids are young, they are just repeating what they hear at home, and it’s not coming from the TV. Two-thirds of parents swear around their kids, Jay says, but have rules against kids swearing. “What exists in the media can reinforce what kids have heard, but it has to reverberate with what they already know,” he says.

It’s not just the words kids repeat. When parents curse, kids pick up on your tone, says James O’Connor, author of Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing. Parents are most often expressing a negative emotion with exuberance. Imitation is just a natural thing kids do.

Most kids won’t swear if you address swearing in a calm, open manner. But if the problem persists, try offering alternatives, such as saying the words in his room (my family’s solution), agreeing on acceptable expletives (fiddlesticks!), or creating a swearing jar that calls for a penny or nickel for each infraction — parents included.

Joanna Nesbit is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in Bellingham, Wash.


HOW TO CURB CURSING

Authors James O’Connor and Timothy Jay agree that overreacting to kids’ swearing is counterproductive, giving offensive words more power. Use the following strategies to lay the groundwork for a cuss-free household:

Ignore it. When a young child curses, consider letting it slide. A huge reaction puts the word on the child’s radar when it could have been a one-time experiment. Don’t laugh, either. It’s a sure way to reinforce the words.

Skip the discipline. For young children, it’s more effective to talk about the words than to enforce a consequence. Disciplining your young child may prompt him to use the words again when he wants a reaction from you, O’Connor says.

Explain your family’s values. Every household is different. Explain that some words offend, while others are plain hurtful, including swear words and cruel slurs. Tell kids you expect them to respect others. And curb your own swearing.

Look for the source of anger. If your child swears out of anger, help your child cope with the crisis at hand. It’s more effective to teach anger management than to punish kids for swearing. Address your concerns about swearing after your child is calm.

Teach positive coping skills. Show kids how to cope without swearing, by teaching them the patience and tolerance to manage everyday problems in a positive way.

Pave the way to the future. Talk frankly about swearing and slang body terms to eliminate the mystique and pave the road for important discussions when children are older. “By the time your kids are adolescents, they’ll be doing things they don’t want to tell you about. If a kid can’t say a swear word to his parents, he’s certainly not going to talk about sex with his parents,” Jay says.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

When Children Hear Horror Stories on the News

How do you nurture a children's confidence in a safe world even when they are exposed to disturbing news.

School Supply Shopping Sound-Off

Parents sound off about the amount of school supplies they are being asked to purchase at the beginning of each school year.

Supporting Your Child’s Communication With Teachers

The nature of what parents need to communicate with a teacher changes with a child's age and needs.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

May 2016

Bread & Puppet Theater hosts a free Circus Workshop. Run away with the circus for a few hours as Bread and Puppet Theater will work with participants to make a variety of circus acts featuring...

Cost: Free

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G E. Main St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

Designed to Unite, with a theme of “All is One”, this festival helps support community, businesses, healers and artists. Enjoy workshops, holistic and intuitive healing experts, craft...

Cost: $5/person per day. Free for ages 11 and younger

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Holshouser Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Telephone: 919-247-3002
Contact Name: Dulce Levitz
Website »

More information

The 6th Annual Pub Head-Shaving event and Balder Dash 5K involves more than 100 volunteers who will run and shave their heads in solidarity with kids with cancer and raise money for lifesaving...

Cost: See website

Where:
West 94th St Pub
4711 Hope Valley Rd. Ste. 6C
Durham, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Designed to Unite, with a theme of “All is One”, this festival helps support community, businesses, healers and artists. Enjoy workshops, holistic and intuitive healing experts, craft...

Cost: $5/person per day. Free for ages 11 and younger

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Holshouser Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Telephone: 919-247-3002
Contact Name: Dulce Levitz
Website »

More information

Take steps against lupus at the 8th Annual Walk to End Lupus Now: Raleigh. Funds raised support national research and local support services to help the estimated 5,200 people in the Triangle area...

Cost: Each walker is encouraged to raise or donate $100 or more

Where:
North Carolina State University – Centennial Campu
851 Main Campus Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: Lupus Foundations of America, NC Chapter
Telephone: 877-849-8271
Contact Name: LFANC
Website »

More information

The 11th Annual Run Baby Run 5K & 10K Races and Walk for Life raises funds for the Hand of Hope Pregnancy Centers to provide free, confidential services to those experiencing unplanned...

Cost: $30

Where:
WakeMed Soccer Park
201 Soccer Park Dr.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: A Hand of Hope Pregnancy Centers
Telephone: 919-210-2278
Contact Name: Carey Koenig
Website »

More information

The Spring Market invites art lovers for a weekend full of art and sunshine including: dazzling examples of local artistic talent, ongoing live music, world-class restaurants, great shopping, food...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Celebrate the unique qualities that make Carrboro special. Enjoy stories and photos, poetry readings, music and dancing, interactive field games, crafts, family activities and more.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Town Commons
301 W. Main St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

Shakespeare’s "Macbeth" is one of the Shakespeare’s best-known dramatic plays. This new ballet about the lust for power gone awry is choreographed to an original score by J....

Cost: $30-$68

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Parent and child get creative by making ceramic artwork together. Ages 2-14. Registration required.

Cost: $15-$18

Where:
Durham Arts Council Clay Studio
Northgate Mall
1058 W. Club Blvd.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Learn how baseball began, and hear about some of North Carolina’s legendary players. Then play a short game of rounders, a colonial version of baseball. Ages 3-5 with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/member, $3/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Telephone: 919-807-7979
Website »

More information

Enjoy songs, stories and fun in Spanish. Infants-preschoolers.

Cost: Free

Where:
Spanish for fun! Cary
100 Endeavor Way
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Sponsor: Spanish for fun!
Telephone: 919-677-7114
Contact Name: Cynthia De Amat
Website »

More information

Parent and child get creative by making ceramic artwork together. Ages 2-14. Registration required.

Cost: $15-$18

Where:
Durham Arts Council Clay Studio
Northgate Mall
1058 W. Club Blvd.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take time out to spend with your little one as you crawl, explore and bounce in a safe environment exclusively for children ages 12 mos-3 yrs. Parents play free; admission is $5 per child....

Cost: $5/child

Where:
BounceU of Apex
3419 Apex Peakway
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy songs, stories and fun in Spanish. Infants-preschoolers.

Cost: Free

Where:
Spanish for fun! Raleigh
8000 Glenwood Ave
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Spanish for fun!
Telephone: 919-881-1160
Contact Name: Carol Marin
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Local crafts, delicious food, children's activities, storytelling, healing arts practitioners, dancing and music workshops, environmental sustainability forums, overnight camping and more...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Shakori Hills
1439 Henderson Tanyard Rd.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy songs, stories and fun in Spanish. Infants-preschoolers.

Cost: Free

Where:
Spanish for fun! Wake Forest
222 Capcom Ave
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Sponsor: Spanish for fun!
Telephone: 919-883-2061
Contact Name: Karina Martinez
Website »

More information

Explore the sky for lightning bugs, the amazing lights of summer. A game and craft complete the fun. Ages 3 and older. Register online.

Cost: $4/child, $2/adult

Where:
Laurel Hills Park
3808 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Local crafts, delicious food, children's activities, storytelling, healing arts practitioners, dancing and music workshops, environmental sustainability forums, overnight camping and more...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Shakori Hills
1439 Henderson Tanyard Rd.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy an energetic, musical storytime with Amy Godfrey, who was a Durham County librarian for six years. Babka and challah will be served as...

Cost: Free

Where:
Levin JCC
1937 West Cornwallis Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Enjoy all things strawberry at this annual festival. Proceeds benefit Central Park School for Children. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/cpscstrawberryfestival.

Cost: Free

Where:
Old North Durham Park
310 W. Geer St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Local crafts, delicious food, children's activities, storytelling, healing arts practitioners, dancing and music workshops, environmental sustainability forums, overnight camping and more...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Shakori Hills
1439 Henderson Tanyard Rd.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Website »

More information

The Ham & Yam Festival offers craft and food vendors, country ham and sweet potatoes, and local bands and dance groups performing on three stages. Also enjoy a barbecue cook-off, a rubber duck...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Smithfield
, NC  27577


Website »

More information

For children and youth with disabilities, their families, friends and care providers. Take your  bike or use one at the clinic. Volunteers will be on hand to help riders practice and help...

Cost: Free

Where:
Chapel Hill Fire Training Grounds at Station #4
103 Weaver Dairy Rd Extension
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Sponsor: Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation
Telephone: 919 968-2813
Contact Name: Marian Kaslovsky
Website »

More information

Enjoy arts, crafts. food, music, kids entertainment and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Apex
Apex, NC  27502


Website »

More information

Take part in a family-friendly, educational 5K walk/run to bring awareness to the disease that took the life of local Cary man, Jerry Minore. His family and friends have partnered with...

Cost: $30/person

Where:
WakeMed Soccer Park
201 Soccer Park Dr.
Cary , NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: bioMerieux & Sepsis Alliance
Website »

More information

The Town of Apex's signature event has brought families together for a day of fun, food and fellowship. Enjoy live music all day, artists of every kind, kids' entertainment, festival food...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Apex
Salem St.
, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Don’t miss the 7th annual Herbfest featuring plant and craft booths, live butterfly releases, craft demos, kids activity, food trucks, bake sale and a silent auction. Tour an herb garden and...

Cost: Free. Food and drink available for purchase

Where:
The Page-Walker Arts & History Center
119 Ambassador Loop
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Sponsor: The Friends of Page-Walker and The Town of Cary
Telephone: 919-460-4963
Website »

More information

This event features Heidi St. John as keynote speaker, as well as multiple workshops and vendor booths to aid homeschool parents and children.

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilson's Mills Baptist Church
652 Swift Creek Rd.
Smithfield, NC  27577
View map »


Website »

More information

Meet in the Street offers a day filled with food, fun and entertainment, including live music and children’s activities. Enjoy dozens of artisans' booths featuring handcrafted arts and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Wake Forest
, NC  27587


Website »

More information

Take part in a fundraiser for the school featuring a dunking booth, bounce house, an inflatable obstacle course, photo booth, face painting, hair bling, homemade Mexican food, cotton candy and more.

Cost: Fees vary

Where:
Carrboro Elementary School
400 Shelton St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: Carrboro Elementary PTA
Telephone: 919-968-3652
Contact Name: Cindy Sellars
Website »

More information

Enjoy all-day fun at the preserve featuring a critter stop, bird watching, crafts, nature scavenger hunt, dip netting, canoeing and fishing. Registration encouraged. Course #183771.

Cost: Free

Where:
Durant Nature Preserve
8305 Camp Durant Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Website »

More information

Innovate Your Cool (IYC) celebrates the power of cool ideas and its impact on business and music. This year’s program packs inspiration, ideas, innovation and fun into one exciting day....

Cost: Free

Where:
American Underground @ Main
201 W Main Street
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Art of Cool Project
Telephone: 919-672-0060
Contact Name: Michael English
Website »

More information

Meet at camp to pick up a local food lunch and hop on a hayride to picnic amidst the flowers and trees. Enjoy crafts, games, bouquet-picking for Mom, as well as the gardens and animals to visit....

Cost: $10/person

Where:
4300 Camp Chestnut Ridge Road
2902 Mt. Willing Road
Efland, NC  27243
View map »


Sponsor: Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
Telephone: 919-304-2178
Contact Name: Erica Romkema
Website »

More information

CarolinaKinder hosts a monthly storytime in German for kids. Read a book and play a game or make a craft. All ages.

Cost: Free of charge

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4381-105 Lassiter at North Hills Ave
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: CarolinaKinder
Contact Name: Stephanie Vogel
Website »

More information

Celebrate spring at Lynn Road Elementary's spring carnival. The event featurs inflatables, games, climbing wall, photo booth, vendors, food trucks, a basket raffle and more.

Cost: $10/child. Free for adults

Where:
Lynn Road Elementary School
1601 Lynn Road
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Lynn Road PTA
Contact Name: Desaray Owen
Website »

More information

All ages enjoy imaginative play in a natural setting.

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-6764
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module

Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module

Newsletter Sign-Up

Stay connected to what's going on for kids and families in the Triangle by signing up for our FREE e-newsletters!

Subscribe

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Exceptional Child

Children with special needs face unique challenges. Find resources from A-Z in areas of advocacy, education, camps and therapies to support them as they grow.

GPS [Go. Play. See]

Triangle parents are busy and on the go. Browse our GPS guide to explore 1,155 family-friendly resources located across the region.

Education Guide

The 2015-16 Education Guide offers 539 education resources in the Triangle, including local preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.