Children are familiar
with curse words. They learn them from peers, siblings, and parents,
and they hear them on TV and at the movies. They partly experiment
with these words to see the effects on play mates and parents. They
whisper the words on the playground and tell stories about kids who
got in trouble for saying bad things. Using profanity makes a child
feel “tough” and grown up. It can also impress his friends and make
him feel part of his peer group.
While most kids are interested in profanity, they also know that
it’s unacceptable. They’ve heard their parents’ warnings. They often
tattle on each other: “Phillip called me the ‘B’ word today!” “Anton
said a dirty word!” They certainly wouldn’t use curse words with
teachers, and they rarely would with other adults outside the home.
They do, however, occasionally use profanity in their own homes,
often in the same ways that adults do, to show anger and
Unlike adults, though, kids say curse words infrequently, quietly,
and with a guilty look that shows they know they’re doing something
wrong. As long as parents see those signs of guilt, they shouldn’t
worry about their child’ profanity. He’s only trying out the words.
Some parents accept the occasional curse word at home, considering
their child’s experimentation harmless. Others won’t allow any
profanity in their home. Whatever your feelings, be assured that, as
long as he knows profanity is unacceptable, you have no cause for
alarm. If, however, he shows no signs of guilt about using curse
words, or uses such words frequently, you should give more thought
to the issue.
He may use profanity because he needs more positive attention than
he’s getting from you and his friends. Cursing is a way of getting
noticed, and to a child who feels neglected, negative attention is
better than none at all. He also might be using profanity because
you aren’t giving him a clear enough message that it’s wrong. Set
firm limits on his use of curse words and follow through if he
ignores your warnings.
There’s one more reason your child may use excessive profanity— he
may hear you use it so often that it seems natural to him. In order
to stop him, you have to monitor your own language and act as a
model for him.