When Your Toddler Uses Bad Language

Ashley B | March 4, 2013 | 32 Comments

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.

Comments (32)

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  1. Very good advice, always stay calm when talking to a toddler and just explain that the word they just used is not a nice word to use and that you don’t want them saying it anymore.

  2. Caitlan Meador says:

    My 3 year old has to have visitation with his biological father and it is VERY difficult for him. He recently said something that sounded just like ship…then I realized he wasn’t saying ship 🙁 I sat him down and explained to him that it was a bad word and he shouldn’t say it and that sometimes adults do things that aren’t good and that he shouldn’t copy everything he sees an adult do.

  3. Karen Hand says:

    Yes, very good advice. Anyone with children knows that this will happen on occasion despite the upbringing, and staying calm is the best advice. This happened with my children when they were toddlers and I simply told them that we didn’t use that kind of language, and that it wasn’t nice to speak vulgar words. I never heard it again out of the mouth of either of my children.

  4. Charlene says:

    It’s real difficult to change the way you talk but for the sake of embarrassment learn to curb your language. As far as the kids today, every other word out of their mouth is nasty. Just turn on the television.

  5. Charlene says:

    I know it’s difficult to change the way you spesak but for the sake of embarrassment learn to use nicer words. The kids today use nasty words all the time.Look at how they tslk on television.

  6. Alexandra says:

    “, 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!” that is so true!
    Haha fortunately when I am so angry/mad/not controlling my nerves I usually use the “bad words” from my native language which the little ones do not know…So when that happens they go round screaming: “Auntie is speaking Polish again! What did we do?!” 🙂
    But seriously now, I liked your advice, making a huge deal out of it will do only harm.

  7. MADDIE k. says:

    Monkey see, monkey do…
    you have to really curb your own language if you expect your kids to curb theirs.

  8. carla bonesteel says:

    The worst thing is, when it’s so funny, that you can’t hold back your laughter! I know this isn’t the right thing to do, but sometimes it just sounds so funny, you have to tell them it’s not ok, through your own smiles and tears from laughter.

  9. Sam Dock says:

    My 2.5 year old has picked up a few nasty words..I think from overhearing his daddy playing on the xbox :/ We try not to make a big deal about it I just shrug and say “hey buddy that word isnt very nice.” And then we move on. But it is super humiliating especially when he says it in front of his Great Grandma lol

  10. candess phillips says:

    I haven’t hit this phase with my four year old yet. He loves bathroom humor though..nothing will make his day like an unexpected toot. But, I’ll be ready for it when it happens and definetly agree not to overreact.

  11. Marisol Munoz says:

    My kids do not used ban words, but I know that we have to give them a good example 🙂

  12. tami s says:

    I totally agree that you just don’t make a big deal of it, remind them we don’t say it and move on. The more of a deal you make of it, the more they want to say it

  13. Paula V says:

    A friend posted how her 3yr old granddaughter was saying “what the he** gwama?” She obviously had no idea what she was saying and that it was bad. How is a kid to know at that age…they merely repeat what they hear from anyone.

    Great tips.

  14. niña says:

    in my house bad words for the kids is nonono…i will spunk there mounth.they scared so they dont do speak bad words

  15. Heather says:

    I’ve been lucky to not have that happen yet. I try hard to not have a potty mouth, but sometimes a bad word flies out if I hurt myself. Then I sit there thinking, dang it, did my four year old catch that. He’s said a couple of bad words, but luckily it was at home where we could talk about it, or pretend he didn’t say the word or that we meant to say another word that sounded like that word.

    Its a slippery slope when you try to be the example, and then you slip up. Great tips!

  16. Mitzi Fisher says:

    This advise is awesome. Sometimes I see little children using bad words and the parent will smack the child in the mouth 🙁 I don’t agree with the smacking in the face!

  17. Amber Dyer says:

    having a wide range of age for kids in my home doesnt make this easy. my 8year tries to sound like his big bro or big sisters who are at the age of being 18+. so i tell him these words are not nice to use and please dont use them. some times with my 4year old who tries to sound like all the older ones i just iggy it and tell the others the same. the 4 yr old tends to repeat tons of words and it is always the bad ones lol

  18. md kennedy says:

    I don’t know – I think an “overreaction” may work. When I was little I used the “F” word in passing once in front of my Dad (I had know idea what it meant, of course). My Dad put the fear of God in me with his reaction. To this day, I do not use 4-letter words.

  19. Heather Howard says:

    My little guy jsut turned 5 in December and started school this past fall as well….he has come home with a few words that we would prefer him not to use and have attempted to direct him to silly words when he does let one slip out. He definitely is checking us to see if he’ll get a reaction and if he does them he just says it all the more.

  20. Darlene Jones-Nelson says:

    Wow I remember when I just threw out a swear word I had to brush my mouth with soap. That didn’t taste good at all. Now I do understand that it is now considered a form of child abuse.I for my kids used hot sauce.At first I told them that it wasn’t proper to talk like that and I threatened the hot sauce and eventually I had to use it.

  21. MADDIE k. says:

    I was babysitting for a friend and her son and daughter were off in the corner playing nicely when I heard Miranda say to her brother Jace “No Jace, STAND THE EFF UP!!!” I wasn’t sure what I should do and truthfully was a bit shocked since I know that my girlfriend doesn’t curse. “JACE!” Miranda said louder “STAND THE EFF UP!!” With that I got up to see what was going on. As I walked over I saw that Miranda and Jace were playing with a set of plastic letter and Miranda was trying to get Jace to stand the (letter) F up! You can’t make this stuff up!

  22. Renee says:

    It never fails and it’s always at the most embarrassing moments. My son did it when we were in a restaurant and I wanted to crawl under the table. He got it from my older nephew…I was so upset.

  23. Charlene says:

    When my kids used bad language I didn’t make a big deal out of it, I calmly told them that we do not use words like that. I feel the bigger deal you make of it the more they will use it. Kids do anything to get your attention, good or bad. It may take me a few times to get through to them but eventually they listen.

  24. dinil says:

    if you get angry at them they will surely use it again

  25. Ronald Smith says:

    words are just that, words. I try to watch mine language.

  26. Sam Dock says:

    Last night I was lounging in the tub and I head my husband and my little boy playing together. All of the sudden I hare my toddler yell “Im hiding B****” Thankfully husband handeled it well and didnt make too big of a deal about it but told him that it wasnt very nice to say and then distracted him with another game.

  27. Chrystal D says:

    My niece got in trouble the first day of school for saying a bad word. When my mom & I heard about it from my brother we laughed so much about it since my sister-in-law ever even swore until she had kids!

  28. Michael Lambert says:

    Thank you for the great tips. We try to be very careful around our daughter but every once in a while one slips.

  29. Kate F. says:

    Those are great tips. Fortunately, my niece and nephew haven’t started repeating swear words yet. They’re still scolding everyone else for saying things like “crap.”

  30. chrisair says:

    thanks for this tips learning new languages is not easy but the sooner we start, the better

  31. Dustin says:

    I can relate to this. Most of my siblings learned a lot of bad words thanks to my mother. She also abuses them verbal and physically which is sometimes I can’t take anymore. If only our child protection law is very strong I won’t hesitate sending my own mother to jail, she is just too violent.

  32. Wendy Price says:

    Great advice.

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