Why children swear and how to properly respond.
As children learn to communicate verbally, they pass through the
- they imitate sounds;
- they imitate simple words;
- they use single words meaningfully;
- they imitate simple phrases;
- they put words together into phrases;
- they respond appropriately to sentences and questions.
At this age, children will seldom swear. However if they do,
they usually are repeating words that mean nothing to them.
Model desirable language patterns. Speak in a positive
light. Affirm children for using appropriate language.
Never swear. If you hear a child at this age swear, ignore the
language. If a swearing child doesn’t get any attention, he or she
won’t have a reason to continue using that kind of language.
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Preschoolers broaden their experiences as they spend more and
more time with peers and adults other than family members. They
still imitate words they hear. They eagerly repeat new and
different words–such as swear words. Sometimes these children are
just repeating the words because they have heard them or they like
the sound of these swear words. At other times, children test
adults to see what response will result when they swear.
Sometimes they seek laughter and attention. Never laugh
at a child who swears, but don’t over-react either. Remain
calm. If a child frequently swears, say, “Here’s another way to
tell us you’re angry” or “There are many other words we can
use–such as fiddlesticks, rats and shoot.” This usually will stop
the swearing. If the swearing is a one-time affair, ignore it. If a
child is seeking a response and you don’t give it, the swearing
will stop. Involving children in meaningful Bible-learning
activities will prevent swearing. When children are actively
involved, they seldom exhibit behavior that needs to be
Children at this age are more and more interested in
peer approval rather than adult approval. Many of these
kids spend much time watching television. Both friends and the
media may encourage swearing and cursing. Also, children at this
age are learning how to respond to their negative feelings. They
may see their friends–or other adults–venting their anger by
swearing. If swearing is a one-time or infrequent behavior, the
most effective response is to ignore it.
A child who swears incessantly should be taken aside and dealt
with directly. Say to the child: “We do not use that kind of
language here. If you are upset about something, it is better to
say you’re mad rather than to use those words.” When you do
intervene, stress that the words are bad, not the
child. Work on preventing swearing by planning exciting,
meaningful activities for this age group.
Barbara Bolton is the co-author of Everything You Want to Know
About Teaching Children Grades 1-6. She is a curriculum consultant
and resource specialist in Ohio and has worked with children for
more than 35 years.
Excerpted from Children’s Ministry Magazine. Subscribe