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“Like a trooper”: what should parents do if a child swears?

09.12.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

A swear word spoken by a child is a shock to his/her parents. Mom and dad naively believed that their well-educated baby would never use foul language – neither with the peers or in the circle of relatives. However, children often do not see anything reprehensible in swearing – no big deal, these are just words. It is important for the parents to convey to the child that obscene words are the worst way to communicate with others. However, it is sometimes extremely difficult to do this, especially during the periods of age-related crises of children. Let’s talk about how to make a child stop swearing. What actions on the part of his parents will help him master the intellectual style of communication while forgetting about foul language?

how to wean a child from swearing

In one of the Russian schools, an interesting survey was conducted among the high school students in order to identify how many children swear at the school. Only 54% of respondents showed a negative attitude to the foul language. The remaining adolescents are either positive or neutral towards the swear words. When the children were asked to express their opinion about foul language, the following thoughts were expressed: “it doesn’t work out without it”, “it is allowed to talk obscenities in a certain place, at a certain time”, “it helps to reduce the entire sentence to one word”, “it helps to explain to the interlocutor something that he does not understand”. [1]


Why do the children swear?

children swear why

The first thing that pops into the head of an adult when he hears another child swearing in a kindergarten or at school is “what are the parent thinking” or “he/she is in with the wrong crowd”. This is only partially true. Among the young foul-mouthed persons there are children from quite well-to-do families.

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Why does a child begin to have a thing for swearing? The reasons may be different:

1. Attempt to gain attention

How do mom and dad usually react when they hear that their baby has incidentally/not incidentally cursed? They start panicking. Moral arguments, sometimes severe punishments, long “heart to heart” conversations. The child who is usually neglected by the parents, understands that “bad words” make mom and dad a little closer. Even if the attention is negative, the child doesn’t care, because the parents finally somehow react to him. Most likely, the child will occasionally use this method to gain attention. [2]

2. Attempt to assert himself

Aggressive speech with the bad words for many people becomes a manifestation of strength. Thus, people try to show their power, to humiliate or substantiate. Children are not the exception. For them, foul language is one of the easiest ways to show others (usually their peers) their independence and “coolness”, contemptuous disregard of the rules.

This is why blaming bad company for the child’s indecent behavior is a great mistake. Friends do not teach the child to swear, as parents sometimes imagine. The child himself decides to “enrich” his speech with a couple or three swear words in order to stand out among his friends.

3. Revenge or offence

What do many adults say when they get into an unpleasant situation? In the heat of the moment, only abusive expressions pop into their heads. The children do it too, they copy the behavior of their parents. Swearing for them becomes a manifestation of anger, pain, gall in the same way.

That is why many teenagers, sharply reacting to the criticism of adults, use foul language in a burst of temper even in the presence of their mom and dad. This is an attempt to hurt the loved ones, to take revenge on them. This is beyond control, because even a five-year-old child can swear in response to his offender in the sandbox. [2]

4. A negative example of adults

Some people never swear under any circumstances. However, there are those for whom obscene language becomes a kind of communication style. It doesn’t matter what kind of mood a person has – the swear words sound literally every other word.

If foul language is OK for one of the parents, the child will copy this particular communication style with a high degree of probability. Perhaps he understands that this is bad, but does not see a positive example, since the family uses obscene language.

Whatever the reasons for the child to use the bad words, the problem requires an intelligent solution. Many may argue that there is no need to overreact, there is nothing terrible in this fact, they say the child will later understand that this is bad. However, the psychologists are uncompromising, since gradually it can develop into a habit that is difficult to be broken. It is believed that the abundance of swear words in the vocabulary reduces intelligence, leads to permissiveness in actions and increases the level of aggression. [1]

Young foul-mouthed persons: age-related features of the swearing habit

Детская бранная речь

“I do not know what to do – my child began to swear. Mitya is the second-grader. There have not been any problems with the behavior previously. But recently I was invited to the school – it turns out my son swears “like a trooper”. He calls his classmates names and does mischief together with his friends while obstructing lessons. I was in shock! At home he is an exemplary boy. I do not know what has happened to him. How and where did he pick up these words? My husband and I communicate in a normal way, we do not swear.

I found out with whom my son is interacting. It has turned out that they are the ordinary guys from quite well-to-do families. It is not clear where such a desire to behave so marginally comes from.

I spoke with Mitya and punished him. A fat lot of good it had done. The teacher still continues to complain. I am terribly ashamed of the behavior of my son. I don’t know how to react”.

– Oksana, mother of 8-year-old Mitya

According to the psychologists, almost every child is faced with the swearing problem. This is normal. However, the question is whether the swearing will be only a short-term manifestation of an age-related crisis or will it gradually transform into the natural style of communication. And here it is important that the parents try to have the situation under control, not allowing him to take the wrong turn.

The surveys demonstrate that the teenage girls are more likely to express a sharply negative attitude to swear words – more than 70% of respondents have said they do not like abusive expressions. However, the boys are more loyal in this regard – only 26% of the respondents expressed their negative attitude to foul language, while the remaining respondents even like such behavior. [1]

The actions and reactions of adults in response to the curses should depend on the age of the child.

2-4 years old

Up to 4 years, the babies swear unconsciously under the “heard – repeated” principle. It is natural that they do not understand the meaning of the words, nor how inappropriate they are in a particular situation. The children have yet to learn to see the difference between the “good” and the “bad”.

The kindergarten and playground near the house are the main places where the baby can learn something bad. However, one cannot blame only third-party circumstances. Sometimes the parents, while communicating with each other, completely do not care of what they say. It only seems like the baby has not heard or understood anything. Most likely, he has already remembered your expression, especially if you have focused on the fact that it is not allowed to say such things. After which he will certainly say what he has learned aloud if he gets the chance. [2]

5-7 years old

Probably, the preschooler has already heard explanations that there are such “bad words” that can never be repeated. It is quite possible to expect in such situation that swear words for the child will become a kind of rebellion against the rules established by the adults.

To be sure the child still does not understand meanings of abusive words. However, he catches on emotions and the message that they carry. Therefore, we can expect that the child will swear quite consciously.

What should we do if a child swears at the age of 7? The parents often do not even realize that their baby is happy to use abusive words in practice. After all, he fears the punishment and behaves in such a way only with his peers. The educators and teachers at school should also work on this problem in order to relay it to the parents in time.

8-10 years old

By this age, the child already clearly understands where and with whom he can swear, and where it is better not to do it. The younger schoolchildren are happy to copy the behavior of high school students, thus joining the world of adults. They use slang to blend in with their peers.

What should we do if a child swears at the age of 9? It is important not to miss a chance when it is not too late to explain to him that the obscene language is the enemy of civilized communication between people. His “coolness” will not be appreciated in the polite society, but rather he will be considered a representative of the lower social strata.

11-14 years old

The adolescence crisis is a difficult period for a child. It is manifested by the rapid behavioral changes, including the active use of swear words in speech.

Obscenities for a teenager are an expression of discontent, an attempt to stand out among the peers and stand up against the “evil” parents. The child rebels against everyone and everything, while trying to prove that he is fully-grown and independent. Unfortunately, the obscene words are the easiest way for the teenagers to achieve what they want.

What should we do if a child over 10 years old swears? The juvenile period is the very moment when it’s easier than ever to ruin your relationship with your child. The adults should approach the problem of bad words as carefully as possible, without any scandals, screams or threats. However, do not let things slide, otherwise such behavior in a child threatens to become the norm. [3] You can show your child how he looks from outside when he is swearing by shooting him with his mobile phone. Then he will be able to clearly see that he does not look cool, but rather vile and funny at the same time.

What should we do if a child swears at school?

How to wean a child from swearing

At school the child is gaining knowledge. Such knowledge is not always the basics of writing, reading and math. According to the psychologists, many children who never used foul language before are very pleased to insert bad words into their speech after enrolling to the first grade.

The obscenities at school represent copying of the peer behavior. It’s difficult for a child in the new circle, he tries to find new friends, or even to become a “pack leader”. And if someone in a particular circle uses obscene language, your schoolchild will also try to do it. It is unlikely that the reasonable arguments of the parents and punishment will help in such situation. [4]

What should the parents do if a child swears at school? It is worth talking with the teacher and learning more about your child’s friends. Find out how they spend time during the class breaks and in which cases they use profanities. When the obscene words are not the only manifestation of bad behavior at school, the school psychologist shall be involved in the educational work. The only true solution to the problem is a calm dialogue with the child. He must come to the conclusion that bad words are not the best way to communicate with others by himself. [4]

5 typical mistakes of parents in the fight against child swearing

children swear from an early age why

The problem of children using obscene words definitely requires solution. However, in some cases, the parents cross the line.

Mistakes parents make when trying to “rehabilitate” a swearing child:

1. Make a mountain out of a molehill

When telling the child off for bad words one should not overstate the “horrible nature” of swearing. This is important because many adults scold the child as if he had committed a real crime. It is important to convey the idea that the swear words are not the “disruptive behavior”, but the “ill-mannered behavior”. These are completely different concepts.

2. Block the child from communication with his peers

Many adults find no other solution than to prohibit the child from being friends with the “bad” crowd. This is something that definitely cannot be done if the child is swearing. Your actions will not work. Firstly, a lot of children use obscene language in high school, which means that he will have to switch to home schooling. Secondly, the child will react to your prohibitions with acute resentment and rebellion.

3. Prohibit swear words “for no good reason”

For the adult, the truth about ill-mannered nature of swearing is fundamental. However, for a child up to 8 years old, the moral arguments of adults are just empty words. Therefore, such reproaches as “do not swear, because I said so” will definitely not work. The child would need clear and intelligible explanation as to why abusive words are prohibited.

4. Shame the child in front of people

When a child suddenly says a bad word in front of other people, parents want to melt into the ground. The situation is unpleasant indeed. However, this is not a reason to publicly punish the child and shame him. The surrounding persons will most likely soon forget about this “mistake”, but the child will feel the shame that he experienced, and probably carry it through his entire life. The best solution is to hold off on punishment and hold an educational conversation at home.

5. Make a generalization

When there is a time for the moral conversation and punishment, many parents cease to control themselves. It is important to talk exactly about the specific misconduct of the child, and not to recall his past “sins.” It is better to refrain from the words “you are bad, if you say that”. It is necessary to put emphasis on the fact that it is the behavior that is wrong, not the child himself! “General” accusations will only dent the child’s self-confidence.

What should be done if the child swears: 7 recommendations from psychologists

The reasons why the child began to swear

In the fight against child swearing, it is very easy to cross a fine line beyond which the educational work will do more harm than good. We would like to provide helpful guidelines that will help the adults to take control of the situation.

1. Take it easy

The child did not hit anyone, did not torture a cat, did not break expensive equipment. He just said a bad word. Should you really be making a big deal out of it?

Try to stay calm and react without strict punishments. This is especially important when the child swears at the age of 3-4 years old. In this case, try to do as follows: do not react at all as if you have not heard anything. As a rule, the baby immediately forgets about an incomprehensible word, since parents do not care. When mom and dad react violently, for example, get angry or laugh, the child realizes that these “strange” words gain attention and he will feel even more interest in them.

2. Understand why the child is cursing

Before doing anything, it’s important to understand why a child over 8 years old is swearing. It is at this age when children already understand why the obscene words are used in general. Maybe the child used them because he was hurt or offended, thus copying your behavior in a similar situation? Teenagers can also swear in order to probe the boundaries of what is permissible.

One must understand the motives. Talk calmly with the child to find out what prompted him to switch from normal to abusive speech. Feeling your sympathy, he will probably tell you about the triggering factor. Only then you can react, for example, you can talk about the acceptable behavior in the public places and at home.

3. If necessary, explain the meaning of words

A common situation is as follows: a child comes from the street and asks his parents what the word consisting of “four letters” means. He has heard it from someone, but now it’s important for him to know what it is. Do not panic, the child just wants help. It is better for the parents to explain the meaning of the word, otherwise the peers will do it (and the information will most likely not be correct). Explain calmly. Afterwards, of course, specify why it is better not to use it in front of other people.

Not only children under 7 years old can be swearing without knowing the meaning of the words they use. Many adolescents also do not particularly understand the meaning of obscene language. The child argues as follows: “everyone says that, so I can too”. [2]

4. Tell them about your feelings.

Instead of blaming the child for swearing, pick out other ways to voice our feelings and emotions in relation to this situation. Such options may be used: “It’s unpleasant for me to hear it,” “I can’t get over the way you speak”.

5. Teach your child to correctly resolve the conflicts

If abusive words in the child’s speech appear only as a manifestation of aggression, anger or resentment, the task of parents is to teach him / her to get out of conflict situations. In this case, the child simply does not understand how to behave. The most obvious thing for him is to “scold” the offender.

Talk and show that you understand his feelings. Explain as clearly as possible that swear words are not the helpers in conflict situations. They only add fresh fuel to a fight. Tell how to best show your negative emotions to the interlocutor or the offender using some examples.

If swearing has already become a habit of the child when resolving conflicts and expressing his feelings, then the solution will not be easy. Educational conversations shall be conducted after each unpleasant incident. However, parents should be patient. [2]

6. Respect your child’s personal boundaries

Anxious parents who want to control their child’s life often violate his / her personal boundaries. The common situation is scrolling through conversations in social networks. For adults it comes as a real shock that there are more offensive words in the messages than normal words. And then the parents start scandals, reproaches, threats, or punishments.

Younger schoolchildren can calmly respond to violation of personal boundaries, but adolescents will not tolerate this! The conflicts cannot be avoided.

Learn to respect your growing child. If he swears only with his friends, without any misconduct in the school, it is important to react calmly. Try to convey to the rebellious child that obscenities (even in the circle of friends) are not “cool”, but rather a manifestation of the vocabulary deficiency. Perhaps the child will soon realize that it is hardly worth gaining the “status” in the company of hooligans. [3]

7. Show a positive example

Parents’ example is the basis for the harmonious growing-up and development of a child. This example should be positive. Children of non-foul-mouthed parents are very unlikely to take up the obscene communication style even in a “bad” company.

If you want a child over 6 years old to not even want to swear, establish clear rules in the family – do not use bad language at home. Keep an eye not only on the child, but also on yourself! Rules are established for everyone, and therefore adults are also not allowed to use obscene language. There should be no exceptions. If the child sees that you are breaking the rules, he will decide that he is allowed to behave this way too.

What if tips do not help and the child continues to swear?

child swears

In some cases, even the sensible strategy of parents to wean children away from swearing does not work. Neither calm conversations nor a positive example can help in this situation. Thus, it’s time to turn to the psychologist for help until the situation goes completely out of control and the child forgets how to communicate in an adequate way.

About 45% of high school students when answering the question on what swearing means for them in the course of a research project have said that it is a habit. That is, foul language has already entered the vocabulary of children so much that they cease to control what they say no matter where they are, in the company of peers, for example, or at the lesson at school or at home with their parents. This is such a disappointing statistical data.

Use of bad words in speech is an unhealthy behavior pattern. It means that the child has already developed a bad habit of expressing his emotions and feelings using the obscene language. However, the problem behavior can be corrected. Behavioral psychological methods are aimed at solution of this problem.

One of the new methods is the 7Spsy behavior modification technique course. This is a patented technique based on theories of I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A.A. Ukhtomsky, etc.

We will teach your child clear and correct speech

Make for consultation WATCH VIDEO

After training, the child will be able to correct his problem behavior. He will understand that obscene words are the worst way to join the “cool” peer group. The profane language does not attract, but rather repels cultured educated people. Having mastered positive affirmations, it will be much easier for the child to deal with negative emotions that often cause meltdown and swearing. He will understand that it is possible to solve any conflict peacefully without any insults.

The 7Spsy psychological course based on behavior modification technique is conducted in a convenient tele-communicating mode. It is designed for a period of up to 6 weeks. In this case, the child is learning individually, the parents will only need to remind about contacting a psychologist. All the necessary consultations and answers to the questions will be received by phone, via e-mail or in the online chat rooms.

Many adults clearly understand how inappropriate the obscene words can be. However, the child is only learning to communicate with people. It is important for his family to help him to “find his feet” in the society. Then the child will definitely thank you that you formed good habits of “normal” communication without swear words.


1.   «Rasprostranennost netsenzurnoi leksiki u shkolnikov» (zhurnal «Uchenye zapiski ZabGGPU, 2011 g), A. V Kovaleva. (https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/rasprostranyonnost-netsenzurnoy-leksiki-u-shkolnikov/viewer).

2.   «Oboidemsia bez vyrazhenii!» (zhurnal «Zdorove detei», № 1, 2009 g), V. Anisimov.

3.   «Psikhologicheskie osobennosti agressivnogo povedeniia podrostkov i usloviia ego korrektsii», 2003 g., L. M. Semeniuk.

4.   «Po povodu mata v shkole» (zhurnal «molodoi uchenyi», № 37, 2018 g), I. S. Kargopolov (https://moluch.ru/archive/223/52617/).