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 How to Handle Profanity

By Annie Zimmer, M.D.

Child opening mouth.

​Did your child just drop a swear word at home? Is this a sign of trouble ahead? Youngsters often delight in using words they hear from friends, parents or shows they watch. Swearing, profanity or cursing is a normal development behavior that is natural for kids to try out, especially during school years. Boys Town Pediatrics offers strategies for parents regarding profanity use.

Handling Profanity

  • Misuse. Remind the child profanity directed at another individual should never be tolerated no matter the individual's age. Swearing often provides young children a feeling of being mature or daring. Children sometimes use profanity to impress friends or to fit in. Your child may repeat profanity and may not even know what it means.
  • Toddler. If you hear your toddler using profanity, it may be shocking. Make sure that as a parent, you are not using profanity in front of your child. Let him or her know that the word they used is not good and mommy and daddy shouldn't be using it either.
  • Children. For children, responses should match the intention of the profanity. Let your child know swearing or using bad words toward another person is hurtful and will not be tolerated. However, sometimes in a moment of frustration your child may accidentally use profanity. Let them know that while it is okay to be upset, swearing is never a solution.
  • Establish Rules. If you feel it is appropriate, establish a rule that no swearing will take place at home. If this occurs, let him or her know it is not acceptable and have him or her think about why this is wrong during a timeout. Never overreact with outbursts of rage and cursing. On occasion, you may feel that your child is using profanity in an attempt to provoke a response from you. In these instances, ignoring your child may be the most effective strategy.
  • Acknowledge and Affirm. Affirm your child for expressing frustration appropriately without swearing to reinforce the behaviors you prefer.

When to Seek Further Help

As children become more mature, the attraction with using profanity generally loses luster. If profanity continues to be a problem for your child and other problems such as chronic lying, stealing, or difficulty with peers occur, talk to your pediatrician about other behavior strategies or resources.