It’s happened to all of us: We are merrily going about our business, when suddenly our three- or four-year-old happily throws a swear word into conversation. While it can feel mortifying at the time, particularly if you’re at a big family gathering or showing off your little munchkin to your boss, the way you handle it can make a difference as to whether it’s a one-time deal or whether it becomes a habit. Here are some pointers on handling a cursing preschooler:
- Don’t overreact. The stronger your reaction, the higher the chance of an encore. Remember, little children do things for attention. If you give him undue attention for letting a four-letter word fly, then it’s practically guaranteed that he’ll do it again. This is true even for negative attention, as negative attention is better than none in the eyes of your small child. The best reaction might be to ignore it, or perhaps to say, “oh, we don’t say that word,” then quickly changing the subject.
- Remember that she’s repeating it. Very young children simply don’t know better than to repeat whatever words they hear around them. It’s possible that your child heard the word on television or that she picked it up from an older sibling or neighbor. If this is what’s happening, monitor her exposure to those types of TV programs, and remind older kids to watch their language. Of course, it’s also possible that she overheard you or your partner using the word, and is just repeating it. If you think that’s the case and you don’t want your child swearing, then you may need to be more cautious about what she’s able to overhear; kids might not hear you telling them to clean their rooms, but if what you’re saying involves ice cream or a dirty word, they’re sure to pick up on it, no matter where they are in the house!
- Keep in mind his developmental stage. Preschoolers in particular love potty talk. If they can talk about bathroom activities and bodily functions, this makes them very happy. Even if the swear word isn’t really a swear but simply an inappropriate word to use in mixed company, a reminder that bathroom language belongs in the bathroom may be enough to curb it. If not, asking others to simply ignore it for a time often works, as your child won’t be getting any attention for it.
There are many phases that your child will go through that can be frustrating and bewildering, and this is one of them. Just remember to stay calm and that this too shall pass.